Updated 04:30 PM EST, Mon, Mar 01, 2021

Cell Phone Unlocking is Legal Again: Now What?

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Good news for those who love freedom and justice, and all that. Last week, President Obama signed into law a bill that would once again make cell phone unlocking legal.

The law is officially titled "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," or S.517, and undoes the 2012 ruling by the Library of Congress which stated that cell phone unlocking somehow violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Congress decided last year that they would not be renewing the DCMA. 

According to CNET, the DCMA prevented Americans from tampering with "technologies that protect copyrighted works," and it also gave the Library of Congress the power over granting exemptions from the law itself. 


When cell phone carriers purchase the rights to sell phones from a phone manufacturer, they often will request that the phones come locked to their particular network. This means that a locked cell phone will not be able to operate on another compatible network. 

Cell phone carriers want their phones to be locked because it makes it harder for their own customers to leave their network, the reason being, most people aren't willing to fork over another $600 for a new phone when they want to leave their carrier. 

Locking a phone to a particular network calls in to question the very nature of ownership. Afterall, if a person purchases a phone, why can't they whatever they want to it? It's there's, right? Thankfully, Congress and President Obama seemed to agree with that sentiment. 


Traveling abroad can be much easier if your phone is unlocked, because it allows a user to simply purchase a temporary SIM card in the country where he or she is traveling and swap it out for their US SIM and away you go. A locked phone prevents users from doing this. 

Also, there is the issue of choice. If you're on say AT&T's GSM network, and you want to take your Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S to a compatible network, like T-Mobile or Metro PCS, you can't. Carriers lock phones specifically to keep you using their service. Unlocked phones simply provide users with more options for service, and if they've purchased a phone, that's exactly how it should be. 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released this statement on the new law, "When the wireless industry worked with the FCC on a voluntary agreement to unlock devices when consumers' contracts have been fulfilled, they took an important step forward. The president's signature today makes greater consumer choice the law of the land." 

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