For many Americans the problem with signing up for a specific carrier when they buy a specific mobile product, say an iPhone, is that they can’t switch carriers when their contract is over. That is, unless they ‘unlock’ their phones, something that is illegal and could carry a penalty if someone is ‘caught’ doing it. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t being done, because it is on a wide scale, but that it carries real penalties and, unless you’re a techie, is not easy to do.
But President Obama and the federal government, thanks to organized efforts by Web activists, now believe that anyone should be able to switch carriers if their original plan is finished and, since the fall of 2012, have been working on drafting a plan to make it legal for the switch to be made. It is, to be sure, for those who have been trying their hardest to shape the United State’s policy on technology.
Here’s what it’s like now; the wireless companies have been selling cell phones at a discount for years but only if a person signs up for a long-term service contract. While a person is under contract they can’t take their phone to another carrier and switch services, which is actually fair considering the lower price they paid for the phone.
The problem is that, once the contract is over, there’s no way to change carriers if your phone is ‘locked’ and ‘unlocking’ it is a crime. To make matters worse the Library of Congress banned the practice of unlocking phones, which is what spurred activists on even more. Their rules ban the practice and come with severe penalties including 5 years in jail for the 1st offense!
Luckily, as of their recent announcement the petition that was started last year “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal” has gotten over 114,000 signatures (digitally if course) which helped push it to the forefront of the ‘to-do’ list at the White House.
In the official White House response to the petition it was said that all consumers should be able to unlock their phones without penalty but that they should still be required to honor the requirements of the service agreement.
This response is due in very large part to the efforts of the aforementioned Web activists. They have done an impressive job of organizing their efforts, with online organization, in-person protests (however rare) and email ‘blasts’ to millions of people asking for support. Indeed their efforts are helping to reshape Washington’s regulations on technology and copyright issues.
In 2012, for example, there were a number of anti-piracy bills before Congress that looked destined to be passed into law. They weren’t, a shock to many on Capitol Hill, due to internet message boards, emails, FaceBook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg and hundreds of thousands of concerned individuals.