Over the weekend a government ruling based on the DMCA took effect that determines how you can use your cell phone on different carriers. As of Jan 26th it is not legal for you to “unlock” your phone to move it from one carrier to another, unless your current carrier gives you permission.
This was a decision made oddly enough by the Librarian of Congress as an interpretation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The end result is that because of copyright issues, you can jailbreak for phone, you cannot jailbreak your tablet, and you cannot unlock your phone.
To clarify, there is a difference between jailbreak and unlock. Jailbreak is bypassing phone controls to put your own software, alter configuration, etc. on a particular phone. Unlock is merely dissociating your phone from a single carrier. When a phone is unlocked, it still has all the same software on it, but can now operate on different networks, say when moving an iPhone from AT&T to T-Mobile.
The theory from the Librarian of Congress it that this somehow is a copyright issue – I won’t explain it because it doesn’t make any sense. The theory from industry is that your cell phone is subsidized and therefore you don’t have rights. This might make sense, except that there is a termination clause. The subsidy comes with strings, for example if you stop your contract early, you pay an early termination fee, usually in excess of the actual subsidy. So in this case, the industry doesn’t actually have an direct loss, in fact probably has a short-term financial gain. On the other hand they lose you as a customer, so long-term there will be loss if they allow you to shop around.
If you like the idea of carrier choice and feel like you’ve paid for your cellphone, sign this petition to make unlocking your own cell phone legal again.