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Unlocking Cellular Devices Became Illegal Today


How to unlock iPhone 5 [1]

By Keaton Keller

A while ago, I thought that cellphone carriers were unaware that consumers could buy a phone for the contract price and then use it anywhere unrestricted. Then, after a while I learned this wasn’t the case and that carriers had every possible loophole filled in.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act [2] (DMCA), a bill to hinder hackers from wandering away from their device’s service provider, will now include an additional rule stating that unlocking phones will be deemed illegal [3].

Keep in mind, people will do it and in the past we’ve seen the U.S. Government do something like this before. Jailbreaking, the act of putting a custom ROM on an iOS device, was granted illegal, but then drawn back for iPhones. Also just recently, jailbreaking iPads has become illegal [4].

One question keeps pulsing around in my head: How will the government enforce this? Will their be an exuberant fine? Will jail time be a feasible solution to end the unlocking of one’s cellular device?

I can see why massive carriers are becoming enraged, as the act directly hurts their business. Unlocking phones creates a deficit and takes away potential profit that could be earned. A recent statistic has been published stating that a normal smartphone with a minimum data plan can produce a wireless carrier $2,600 over a two-year contract. Now multiply that number by the number of U.S. residents with unlocked cellphones. That is a big risk and loss of money.

Granted, there are loop holes, such as buying devices on contract, waiting a month while in service and then paying the standard $200 cancellation fee. If you compare the numbers, it’s still less than buying the phone pre-unlocked or outright from the carrier/manufacturer. Clearly carriers are cracking down on this, and will continue fighting for their profit.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Unlocking Cellular Devices Became Illegal Today"

#1 Comment By -Andy- On January 26, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

It’s the Librarian of Congress who determines exceptions to the DMCA.

This isn’t iPhone specific. And it has nothing to do with ‘jailbreaking’ iPhones – which is still legal, it has to do with carrier locking, which affects all cell phones and is different (Sure, you can’t unlock without jailbreaking, on an iPhone. But jailbreaking iPhones, unlike ipads, is still legal).

Also, no one puts a custom ROM on an iPhone – that would be an Android activity. What you should have said is that you have to jailbreak an iPhone in order to sideload iPhone apps from non-Apple app repositories, (which are not ROMs)

You should also go read the Ars Technica post about this for actual details. They appear to have done a bit more research.

#2 Comment By Frank Lowney On January 26, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

One must also bear in mind that carrier locking isn’t ubiquitous. For example, the iPhone 5 from Verizon has a SIM card slot which is unlocked to any GSM carrier. Of course, this could be construed as permission from Verizon.

#3 Comment By Jon Jermey On January 27, 2013 @ 12:40 am

In Australia part of the deal by which mobile phone companies gained access to part of the broadcasting spectrum was that they would permit free phone unlocking after a fixed period of use — normally 24 months — and users can keep their numbers if they move to a different provider. It sounds like US consumers are being shafted.

#4 Comment By Alexander Inglis On January 27, 2013 @ 9:00 am

It’s a silly rule since it is so easy to purchase an unlock code for an Android device and many other operating systems.

But there is nothing wrong with a carrier selling a locked device and not assisting the customer in unlocking it until the device is paid for. If you’ve signed a two year contract to buy a device with a plan that includes $20/mth in a subsidy (you bought a $500 phone for $99), then you have no right to “walk away” before paying for the phone in full by staying for the term of your contract. (No on forced you to buy the buy at a discount in the first place.)

#5 Comment By Juli Monroe On January 27, 2013 @ 9:43 am

@Alexander, Except that from what I understand, the rule also applies to phones that are out of contract, which definitely doesn’t makes sense.