The way wireless carriers in America operate is different from most of the rest of the world. In European countries for instance, you can go to a manufacturers store, Car Phone Warehouse or any electronics big box and buy a phone outright. Once you buy the phone, you decide what carrier you’re going to use the phone on.
In the US we do it a bit differently. For years, until John Legere started shaking things up, US carriers would “subsidize” the actual device. It would be a lot cheaper to “purchase” when you signed a new two year contract.
At the end of the contract you had just few options. You could go month to month with the same device. You could renew your two year contract with the same device. Or you could start a new contract with a new device or switch carriers and again get a new device. Once your contract was up, as long as your account was in good standing you could sell your phone to someone else, on the same carrier.
Over the last couple of years Americans have said no more. There was a whitehouse.gov petition with over 100,000 signatures asking that the government make the wireless carriers “unlock” wireless phones after they were paid in full.
In a perfect world that would mean whether you paid the upfront cost of the phone or used one of the carriers monthly payment plans, once you owned the phone you could take that phone anywhere. There’s still one major problem with that in the US and that is two of our major carriers Verizon and Sprint, use one kind of service, CDMA. While the other two major carriers, T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM technology.
Well congress passed a bill requiring carriers to let customers unlock their phone and take it with them to another carrier after the phone has been paid in full. President Obama signed that bill on Friday.
That means you can now take your phone to the opposite carrier or even a prepaid carrier that uses the same technology if you so choose.
Venturebeat points out that this could only be a temporary fix though because the Library of Congress is actually able to set the law for phone unlocking. They vote on these things every three years and the next decision is expected next year. CBS News reports that the Library of Congress may decide to side with Congress and the President though.
So while this means you’re still locked to a certain kind of technology (CDMA or GSM) you have at least some choice in the matter.
You can check out the entire text of the “Unlocking Consumer and Wireless Competition Act” here.