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It's time for Washington to restore your right to unlock your cell phone

You should be allowed to take your device to a new carrier

Published: June 2013

In January, a cell phone tool that consumers could turn to when considering what carrier to use went from consumer right to felony in one fell swoop. Thanks to a new interpretation of copyright law, the ability to “unlock” your cell phone has officially been put on lockdown.

Unlocking a phone allows you to take your phone to another carrier rather than having to purchase a new one. It’s also a good option when you travel overseas and want to use your mobile phone without being hit with exorbitant roaming charges.

Previously, the legal protection for unlocking had been granted under an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But last October the Copyright Office removed the exception, effective in January, and support grew for making unlocking legal—again.

When you're ready for a new smart phone, check our buying guide and reviews. And read about our efforts to help thwart smart phone thefts.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has been working for years to give you more control over how you use you mobile phones. That’s why we were quick to call on lawmakers and regulators to find a solution. And last week, we were invited to testify in Congress on why you deserve the ability to unlock your cell phones.

We’ve consistently heard from consumers who believe they should be able to take their mobile phones to a new service provider. In fact, a 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that 96 percent of consumers with long-term contracts said they should be able to keep their existing handsets when changing carriers. For those with smart phones, the number was even higher—98 percent.

Making unlocking illegal also hurts consumers while helping service providers by keeping customers locked in long-term bundled contracts. If consumers could shop for the best deal on each of these purchases separately, they would get lower prices, improved quality, and greater innovation and variety.

You shouldn’t have to retire your perfectly good smart phone just because you want to move to another carrier at the end of your contract. We’re pleased that there are several bills pending in Congress that would restore your right to unlock your phone. We will keep working that the solution provides full protection for all your devices.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the public-policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.


Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.


   

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