Phones should not be locked to any network. The fact that they are is absurd in the first place; the fact that these network locks actually have the force of law is insane. But the law might be rewritten, if the FCC’s new chairman has his way.

Phone Jail

Currently, it’s against the law to unlock your phone, courtesy of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It used to be allowed, but it was decided by the Library of Congress, of all people, that Google selling nice, unlocked phones and the fact that you can buy crappy unlocked phones off Amazon meant that you didn’t really need the right to remove a restriction on a device that you’ve paid for and own. You know, because large corporations have it real tough.

Unlocked Achievement

Still, increasingly there has been government pressure on phone manufacturers and carriers to knock it off. They resist, because obviously they want you to stay on their network, and unlocking your phone means they have to compete. But Obama himself has weighed in on the issue, and now, the FCC’s new boss has pretty definitively issued an ultimatum: Either get to unlocking the phones, or we’re going to make you:

“For eight months, the FCC staff has been working with CTIA on an amendment to your Consumer Code in which this industry would address consumers’ rights to unlock their mobile wireless devices once their contracts are fulfilled. Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate.”

Will It Happen?


Odds are pretty good carriers will, with much sulking, rage, and hostility, comply. But don’t expect it to come easily, and expect carriers to try and offer you incentives to not unlock your phone. If you really want to keep us on your networks, guys, you could start by offering better customer service.

Dan Seitz

Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.