In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking cellphones would no longer be allowed. The 90-day window for people to buy a phone and unlock it ended on Jan. 26.
The rule says with respect to new wireless handsets, there are ample alternatives to circumvention.
The marketplace has evolved such that there is now a wide array of unlocked phone options available to consumers.
The new rule against unlocking cellphones won’t be a problem for everybody, though.
You can still buy unlocked phones. International travelers will still be able to bring their unlocked phones into the U.S. without issue. You can also pay full price for a phone, not the discounted price that comes with a two-year service contract. Verizon’s iPhone 5 comes out of the box already unlocked, and AT&T will unlock a phone once it is out of contract. Legacy phones, which the Library of Congress describes as “used (or perhaps unused) phones previously purchased or otherwise acquired by a consumer,” are okay to unlock. The new no-no is buying a locked phone with a hefty carrier discount and then unlocking it on your own and without the carrier’s permission. Unlocking a phone frees it from restrictions that keep the device from working on more than one carrier’s network. Some people just like the freedom to switch carriers as they please. A few things to keep in mind when shopping for a new phone:
Major carriers use two incompatible digital networks. Sprint and Verizon networks use Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), while AT&T and T-Mobile use Global System for Mobile communication (GSM). Carriers also support high-speed data networks. The network determines the capabilities and performance your phone will have. The newest smart phones typically come with 5 or 8-megapixel cameras with advanced controls and the ability to take HD videos, allowing you to share your content via Facebook, YouTube, e-mail and Internet-based “cloud” services. The data networks they run on are getting faster, enabling them to download and upload large files in less time, provide a better Web-browsing experience, stream high-definition videos, and support video chats via front-facing cameras. Choose a conventional model if you mainly need voice, text-messaging, music player and camera. Choose a smart phone for a larger display, QWERTY keyboard, multiple e-mail accounts, contacts, Office documents, shopping, multimedia, games, travel, news, weather, social media and finance.
Your phone carrier may contact you once they detect you’ve unlocked your phone.
Learn more about mobile phones and contracts by visiting the Tri-State Better Business Bureau.