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Published: January 2014

Consumer update: Unlocking your phone

A change in early 2013 to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act made it illegal to  “unlock” cell phones. That meant when your contract expired, you couldn’t move your device to a different service provider. You’d have to purchase a new phone to take advantage of a competitor’s cheaper wireless rates, for example.

But a new voluntary industry agreement once again gives consumers the ability to take their mobile devices to a different carrier’s compatible network. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and  Verizon Wireless will extend unlocking capabilities to traditional contract customers and those with prepaid phones. They also agreed to notify customers when their devices become eligible to be moved or automatically unlock them remotely (without additional fees).

Consumers Union has been working for years on getting shoppers more power in the mobile marketplace. We’re encouraged that this agreement will provide needed flexibility while helping to spur competition among carriers and device makers. Consumers Union will monitor the agreement to make sure it’s followed appropriately.

State lines: Is your sofa toxic?

California is leading the way in making sure shoppers have access to furniture that’s fire-safe and free of unhealthy flame retardants.

The Golden State’s new flammability standard, which went into effect in January, allows upholstered furniture (and the foam found in many baby products) to be produced without being injected with flame-retardant chemicals. Research suggests that the chemicals might actually increase fire risks. What’s more, they can be transferred from furniture to people—mainly through dust—and have been linked to cancer, reduced IQ, infertility, birth defects, and other problems.

The chemicals have been used to meet a 1975 California standard that required the foam in furniture to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds. It was a state regulation, and it became a de facto national standard.

Although it doesn’t ban retardants, we support the new standard and filed comments with regulators before it was finalized.

Californians should look for a  “TB117-2013” tag when shopping for furniture (the code for the new standard), and wherever you live, ask about flame retardants before buying.

On the record

‘This agreement is a major step forward to reducing the emissions that are causing our climate to change and unleashing the extreme weather that we are experiencing with increased frequency.’

—NEW YORK GOV. ANDREW CUOMO Representatives from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York unveiled a plan in late 2013 to collectively put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the needed fueling stations to keep them running.


That’s the number of children 3 and younger rushed to the hospital every hour (of every day) because of an injury related to a high chair or booster seat, reports a new study published in Clinical Pediatrics. Almost all injuries involve a fall, usually preceded by the child climbing or standing in the chair. The chair’s safety restraint either wasn’t being used or was ineffective. Thankfully, new safety regulations for high chairs are expected in the near future. We hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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