Why you should sign the phone-unlocking petition right now

A lot of silly reporting has inadvertently trivialized an important proposal for roaming rights on your smartphone

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Though the U.S. carriers are now pretty good about unlocking phones for international use, they still impose unnecessary burdens. You have to call and ask them to unlock the phone for such use, which can take several weeks -- and let them say no. Some carriers require you to have a contract for several months before you can get your phone unlocked for roaming abroad. These are silly impediments -- all phones should be unlocked at the outset for international roaming.

The domestic lock makes sense for subsidized phones, but not the international lock, so the LOC should change its rules accordingly. That change would also make U.S. rules more like those in most of the rest of the world, where locking is usually illegal or restricted to domestic locking for subsidized phones only.

There are other reasons the LOC should change its rules, Khanifar argues. One is the trust issue. He argues, and I believe he's right, that one reason the U.S. carriers have been accommodating of international unlocks is that, until this month, the LOC said they had to do so. He fears they'll revert to their old bad behavior now that the LOC has changed the rules -- that would certainly fit the carriers' usual greedy behavior. Remember why they locked phones for international use in the first place: to force you to pay their extremely high roaming fees ($1.50 a minute or more, versus paying $10 to $20 for a new SIM abroad that usually has a healthy allotment of minutes included).

A reason I hadn't considered involves secondhand smartphones. For many people, a previously owned phone is a perfectly good device (which is why Apple continues to have a strong business selling old models even after it introduces its new one each year). But that used device is locked, and the new owner has no way to unlock it; only the original user can unlock the phone, with no note of the new owner as the customer of record. The result: The carrier won't unlock the phone. If all phones were unlocked by default for international roaming, there wouldn't be an issue.

The same problem occurs if you want to switch carriers but keep using your favorite smartphone after your contract expires. That's why the carriers should be forced to unlock phones domestically too after the initial two-year contract has been satisfied -- and the subsidy repaid. At that point, the carrier has no real excuse to keep the domestic lock, other than greed. But today, the carrier keeps a permanent lock on all subsidized phones.

Khanifar's petition asks the White House and Congress to agree on a law that would make unlocking phones permanently legal. That's just common sense. Here's what such a law should require:

  • All phones sold in the United States should be unlocked for international use.
  • Customers should be able to have their existing phones unlocked at no charge and have the unlocking take no more than 24 hours after making a Web or phone request.
  • People who buy used phones not reported stolen should be able to have them unlocked domestically and internationally by any carrier that provides the new owners access to its network for that device, for a fee not to exceed $25 per device.
  • Customers who buy subsidized phones have the right to unlock their phones domestically while still under the initial contract by paying the early termination fee.
  • All subsidized phones are automatically unlocked domestically once the initial contract has been satisfied (that is, when the subsidy or hardware installment payment that justifies the domestic lock is paid back).
  • The authority of the Library of Congress granted by the DMCA over unlocking should be revoked -- the DMCA is the wrong legal framework for unlocking, which has nothing to do with copyright protection.

Time is running out to advocate for these needed changes. Sign the petition right now.

This article, "Why you should sign the phone-unlocking petition right now," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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