EDITORIAL: Cell phone unlocking should be for all

State Hornet Staff

People should be able to use their property how they wish, within reasonable limitations as long as people and/or property are not damaged.

While this is the rule for most products, one of the most glaring exceptions is how cell phones are often only allowed to be used within a certain carrier’s network. On the official White House petition website, a petition with 114,322 signatures to make unlocking phones legal prompted a response from the Senior Adviser for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy, R. David Edelman.

On Jan. 26, the Library of Congress deemed it illegal for consumers to unlock their phones under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Before that date, unlocking one’s phone was completely legal, if heavily restricted by phone manufacturers.

When a person chooses to unlock his or her phone, it allows the phone to be used outside the network it was purchased under, giving the customer the freedom to a network, even one outside the country. This is different from jailbreaking one’s phone, which is completely legal and allows software not approved by the phone’s manufacturer to be installed, though it often voids the phone’s warranty.

The statement said the Obama Administration will work with Congress to overturn Librarian of Congress James H. Billington’s decision that cell phones would no longer be exempt from the DMCA. Both the Department of Commerce and the FCC support the White House in this goal, according to the statement.

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration actually advised the Library of Congress against its action, yet Billington continued.

Even the telecommunications corporations that stand to lose something from allowing customers to unlock their cell phones are backing the Obama Administration.

AT&T is already on board with this plan. Soon after the White House’s statement was released, the telecom giant announced it would begin to unlock customers’ phones after 60 days if those customers met a certain set of guidelines.

In the blog post announcing this decision, the corporation stated, “AT&T’s policy is to unlock our customers’ devices if they’ve met the terms of their service agreements and we have the unlock code.”

There’s a large hurdle hidden in that statement: AT&T needs the unlock codes from the phone’s manufacturer in order to fulfill their end of the deal. Should a phone manufacturer withhold those codes, all this effort would be for naught.

However, other countries have already devised a way to leap that particular obstacle.

In Canada, two days after unlocking phones in America was deemed illegal, the first draft of a bill forcing wireless carriers to unlock their phones was released.

Along with requiring wireless providers to unlock all their customers’ phones, customers would also be given tools to monitor their data usage and limit any feature that may be using up too much data. The bill would also limit early contract termination fees to just any subsidies the customer received upon signing the contract.

There are economic factors to be considered, too. Should a certain network become too expensive, someone on a limited budget – a student for example – might want to switch networks. However, when switching to a less expensive network, the student in question would likely want to keep the expensive smartphone s/he has.

It seems public, government and even international opinion is in favor of allowing customers to use their phones with any wireless provider they wish. Having a third party limit that freedom is unreasonable limitation on that customer’s freedom.