Pat Pilcher: US phone unlocking bill awaits president's signature

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Back in 2013 I wrote about how the US had made unlocking cellphones all but illegal. Under the law unlocking a cellphone saw consumers breaching the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Sanity may finally be returning to the land of the free thanks to a new bill that'll allow consumers to unlock cellphones. The bill has passed its last hurdle in US Congress and should pass into law once signed by President Obama.

The issue of locking cellphones is a contentious one. In the US mobile market, phones are often sold with a software lock so the phone will only work with a SIM card from a specific telco. This is good and bad news for consumers, who get subsidised mobile phones, but remain locked into a telco.

Stranger still, consumers had to get permission from telcos before they could unlock cellphones. This rarely happened as hell was going to freeze over before a telco handed customers over to competitors.

Once the bill gets President Obama's signature, the real winner will be the consumer. Being able to unlock cellphones without becoming a criminal should spur greater competition. Mobile providers will have to keep mobile plans as sharp as possible to avoid losing subscribers.

Most New Zealand telcos have agreed not to lock handsets. Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees don't lock phones. Only Skinny locks their devices (even then you can pay for an unlock code after 9 months). It seems that in New Zealand commercial commonsense beats regulatory meddling.

The new law will no longer see cellphone owners running afoul of copyright law, but will apply to tablets and e-readers.

Called the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act", the bill has sped through US Congress after a considerable amount of digital activism including an online petition that attracted 114,000 signatures.

- NZ Herald

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