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Compromise Struck On Cellphone Unlocking Bill 77

Posted by timothy
from the pit-carrier-against-carrier dept.
NotSanguine (1917456) writes The U.S. Senate has passed a bill (S.517) today, allowing users to unlock their phones when moving to another provider. From a recent article at thehill.com: "Consumers should be able to use their existing cell phones when they move their service to a new wireless provider," [Sen. Patrick] Leahy said in a statement. "Our laws should not prohibit consumers from carrying their cell phones to a new network, and we should promote and protect competition in the wireless marketplace," he said. [Sen. Chuck] Grassley called the bipartisan compromise "an important step forward in ensuring that there is competition in the industry and in safeguarding options for consumers as they look at new cell phone contracts." "Empowering people with the freedom to use the carrier of their choice after complying with their original terms of service is the right thing to do," he said. The House in February passed a companion bill sponsored on cellphone unlocking from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)." Also at Ars Technica, as pointed out by reader jessepdx.
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Compromise Struck On Cellphone Unlocking Bill

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  • Very few phones work on both CDMA2000 networks (Verizon and Sprint) and GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile), and they're hard to find in U.S. stores. Mail order doesn't let you hold the phone and get a feel for its size, weight, screen, and buttons before you buy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Very few phones work on both CDMA2000 networks (Verizon and Sprint) and GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile), and they're hard to find in U.S. stores. Mail order doesn't let you hold the phone and get a feel for its size, weight, screen, and buttons before you buy.

      What decade are you living in? Most recent phones have been either phones that work on both AT&T and T-mobile or LTE phones with multiple bands which would work on multiple networks. It is only the retarded Verizon specific phone that are designed to work on their bastardized version of the 700 Mhz band that have less utility on other LTE networks.

      • So can Verizon and Sprint do voice and SMS over LTE with a carrier-neutral LTE phone, or would I have to buy a carrier-endorsed CDMA2000+LTE phone for that?
      • by clonehappy (655530) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:12PM (#47535777)

        This is a tech site, we're supposed to be people who keep up with the latest in technology. I'm not sure, exactly, why I have to keep posting this over and over, but here we go again:

        The "retarded" Verizon specific phones are actually some of the most compatible phones you can buy today. Not only do they work on the Verizon CDMA and "bastardized" LTE networks, but they include full functionality for GSM and HSPA networks. I have two Verizon phones, right at this moment, that I'm using full time on other networks with full capability. My Verizon iPhone 5S is currently being used on an AT&T postpaid plan. All LTE, HSPA, and GSM functions work with 100% compatibility. My Verizon LG G2 is being used on T-Mobile with full LTE, HSPA, and GSM services. Nearly every phone worth having today is fully compatible with the GSM/WCDMA (HSPA) network technology. Phones are becoming more compatible, not less.

        Now, everyone always wants to trot out the fact that you can't take a phone from Carrier X and move it to Verizon, and this is true. Very few use cases actually involve moving a phone TO Verizon, however. But to say that Verizon phones are the bastard child of the cellular industry is simply untrue. In fact, they are more useful to some people, including myself, as I can take the aforementioned G2 or iPhone and put my Verizon SIM back in it and go on my way. Phone manufacturers have no incentive to make multiple product lines, yet they all still need to support Verizon as the largest carrier in the United States. So they make compatible phones, then simply disable the ability to connect to CDMA on the ones sold to GSM/HSPA providers. But the Verizon ones are compatible with GSM/HSPA and CDMA, making them the most versatile of all.

        At any rate, things being more open rather than less is always a good thing. There are plenty of cases where a phone geek such as myself can benefit from having unlocked handsets lying around. Say someone breaks a phone, or an iPhone fanboy wants to try out Android (or the other way around), or traveling overseas, or trying out a new MVNO or prepaid carrier...just pop in the SIM and you're on your way. And as for the GP, millions of phones work on CDMA and GSM (and their descendents), they're just all sold by Verizon. But the FUD machine wants you to think there's no good reason to have handsets with carrier mobility, and for many folks, that's simply untrue.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Solandri (704621)

          The "retarded" Verizon specific phones are actually some of the most compatible phones you can buy today. Not only do they work on the Verizon CDMA and "bastardized" LTE networks, but they include full functionality for GSM and HSPA networks. I have two Verizon phones, right at this moment, that I'm using full time on other networks with full capability. My Verizon iPhone 5S is currently being used on an AT&T postpaid plan. All LTE, HSPA, and GSM functions work with 100% compatibility. My Verizon LG G2

        • by houghi (78078)

          My Verizon iPhone 5

          As sdomebody living in Belgium where locking is (for now) forbidden, this confuses the hell out of me. The phone is identical to all providers. Sure, some services might not be available, but you can buy any phone and use it on any nwetwork.

          If I want a new phone I just go to the store, buy one and transfer the data. You can letthe store do it for you. You can buy a phone where you are locked in, which means you will have to pay the provider for a certain amount of time. They are shortenin

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, but is that the chicken, or the egg? If phones were portable between networks, then multi-network compatible phones are actually worth selling and will show up in stores (in theory).

      • by rkww (675767)

        If phones were portable between networks, then multi-network compatible phones are actually worth selling and will show up in stores

        That's already the case [webuy.com] in the UK. Note the 'unlocked' option in the Network dropdown and the premium it brings to the price.

        An unlocked GSM phone can be used with a local SIM card (so no roaming charges) anywhere in Europe, and, in the UK at least, you can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for less than a dollar.

        Or a month's unlimited data [three.co.uk] for $25. And interestingly (for this t

        • by pla (258480)
          Or a month's unlimited data [three.co.uk] for $25. And interestingly (for this topic) a 3UK SIM can be used in a handful of countries without roaming charges - including the USA [three.co.uk] (but data's limited to 25 gigabytes per month and you're not allowed to tether.)

          Holy crap... Can I sign up with them AS an American? Tethering aside, that beats my current plan by 5GB and $50.

          No, the US doesn't need to regulate the greedy-four in charge of our cell networks - We clearly have the best products and
    • Very few phones work on both CDMA2000 networks (Verizon and Sprint) and GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile), and they're hard to find in U.S. stores.

      If true (I don't keep track of which phones are available through whom and do what), I don't see what bearing that has on whether it's a good idea or a bad one to make it easier to force carriers to unlock the handsets that they sell. Even if there were *no* dual-network phones, you'd be able to move between a choice between two carriers (and the MVNOs of each), and that's better than being forced to buy a new phone.

      Mail order doesn't let you hold the phone and get a feel for its size, weight, screen, and buttons before you buy.

      Well, I can't argue with that; if you don't have physical access to a device, then you can't

      • by tepples (727027)

        Having the opportunity to handle a phone before buying it varies on a case-by-case basis so much that I'm not quite sure why you mentioned it.

        Because of this comment [slashdot.org]. I asked about being able to try an AOSP phone before I buy it, and someone replied that I sounded like an entitled whiner.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most CDMA phones are also GSM phones (though the reverse is not necessarily true), and both will be replaced with pure LTE in a few years anyway.

      My Verizon phone is unlocked CDMA/GSM/LTE, and I can use it with ATT or Tmobile any time I like. I can supplement my plan by temporarily swapping in a cheap pay-as-you-go SIM if, say, I'm going on a business trip and will be using more data than usual. I'm still under contract for the time being, but in a year I'll be able to try out, or switch outright, to another

    • by Tumbleweed (3706)

      My Nexus 5 thinks you don't know what you're talking about; it works just fine on T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint. Get with the times, man; it's ALL ball bearings now!

  • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Friday July 25, 2014 @07:33PM (#47535547) Journal

    True story:

    My sisters's iphone screen broke. I asked her what she was doing with it, she said "Nothing, Apple wanted $100 to fix the screen but I just signed on for another contract with Verizon and got a free iphone."

    This is how a lot of people think, and they're too naïve (or dumb) to realize the truth (no comment on sis). Her iphone is worth several hundred dollars, and if the phone is fixed for $100 she still comes out ahead. Verizon, meanwhile, will charge her more per month and actually, she's losing money on the deal.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      So if she doesn't sign a new contract, how much less does Verizon charge her?

      Wait for it ...

      Nothing.

      The fact of the matter is, its you that is dumb. She's going to have a cell phone bill ANYWAY. Signing up for 'a new contract' that basically says you're going to stay with the cell phone provider for another 2 years ... which she was going to do anyway, doesn't actually cost her anything. They aren't charging her any more per month. They don't reduce her rate when her contract expires.

      True Story: You're

      • by marka63 (1237718)

        Only because of rip off plans.

        In sane countries you have "bring your own phone" plans which are cheaper that ones with phones and contracts where the cost of the phone is itemised and disappears once it is paid off. You can also unlock the phone at anytime for a small fee while in contract and $0 out of contract. The contracts are advertised with minimum spend over X months. This is what the carrier expects to get from you regardless of whether you use the phone or not. It is also what you are expected

      • by SeaFox (739806)

        You're sister is smarter than you are, apparently. It would be stupid for her to pay $100 to fix the phone when she can get a new one for now additional fees unless she was actually going to change providers, which realistically, she wasn't.

        His sister is still dumb because she's letting her old iPhone sit in a desk drawer and lose value every time a new generation comes out. If Verizon was really going to give her a new iPhone for nothing (but a contract extension), she should have still paid Apple the $100 to fix the screen on the old one, and then sold it immediately. Working iPhone with brand new screen -- wonder how much that would have fetched on the market.

        • by vux984 (928602)

          If Verizon was really going to give her a new iPhone for nothing (but a contract extension), she should have still paid Apple the $100 to fix the screen on the old one, and then sold it immediately.

          Meh... depends on what phone she had and has now. She probably has a 4S. $100 to repair it and then maybe sell it for $200... $100 net profit whooo... still worth it assuming you value your time less than whatever grief is involved dealing with putzes on craigslist. :)

          • by BitZtream (692029)

            No one is paying $200 for a phone they can get for free with a contract, certainly not a 2 year old phone (existing 2 year contract for broken phone must have already completed or they wouldn't let her resign for a free phone).

            Okay a few uppity slashdotters do, but those 6 people don't buy iPhones and already have a nexus or something anyway.

            Her 16g iPhone 4 was worthless a year ago.

            • by vux984 (928602)

              No one is paying $200 for a phone they can get for free with a contract

              Not true. The 2ndary market for last years premium phones (iphone 4S, galaxy 3, galaxy 4 ...) and they do go for ~$150-250.

              There are a few niches where used premium phones really shine:

              kids phones -- kids want imessage/sms, games, youtube, and parents don't want to spend $50-80/mo for phone contracts for their kids, so they'll 'get' an older premium phone and stick a pay as you go text messenging plan on it.

              This is a popular setup parent

      • But there's opportunity cost to committing for another 2 years.

        And are you seriously telling me if she gets an iphone 64 GB 5S it's the same price as if she gets the $20 special?

        • by swillden (191260)

          And are you seriously telling me if she gets an iphone 64 GB 5S it's the same price as if she gets the $20 special?

          In many cases... yes. The most expensive phones have an up-front cost in addition to the two-year commitment, but if you get the most expensive phone you can without an up-front fee, then there is no price difference between that one and the cheapest phone.

          Yes, this is ridiculous.

      • Or even better: Get a new contract and a new phone, fix the old one for $100, then sell it for $200+. Now she has a brand new phone which cost (as little as) nothing, the same bill she always had, and enough cash to cover several months of service. P.S. Sorry, meant to mod up but I hit the wrong button.
    • by fermion (181285)
      Right now you best deal on a contract phone is buy a new phone when the contract runs out. Otherwise you are paying the fees for a phone that is already paid for. If you sign a new contract, and get a new phone, the amount of money you pay is constant. There is no wasted money. If she was paying for a plan that was out of contract that was a waste of money. Paying $100 is wasted if she was out of contract. Paying $100 in contract would not necessarily be a waste, but it is likely a wash. The value of a
      • by evilviper (135110)

        Most people aren't set up to lay down a few hundred dollars for a phone at time of purchase. Getting a phone for free and paying for a couple years makes more sense.

        T-Mobile allows financing your cell phone purchase over 2-years, with no interest.

        http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/p... [t-mobile.com]

        Most pre-paid providers have extremely cheap Android smartphones, some as little as $30.

  • Everybody knows the technology and even the frequency spectrums in use by the various carriers is mostly all different. You watch. The carriers now will say that they have to raise prices or even completely do away with contract subsidies in order to be competitive. As "do-gooder" efforts go, this is up there. Sounds great on paper, but utterly fails in it's intended consequence and/or has worse unintended consequences.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Except... phone unlocking has been legal in many other countries for years now with positive effects.

    • Phones like the iPhone have the ability to use most american, european, asian, and FAIK african cell phone bands, for years now. Most high end android phones have similar abilities (and some allow multiple sims).

      My iphone has never been unable to communicate on a region's network, and I travel a lot, My (unlocked) iphone has worked on all four continents mentioned. Quite a few places in America, most countries in europe west of Czech (and who'd want to go east of there), South East Asia, and Morocco (OK,

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        If you have an AT&T or T-Mobile iPhone, sure. If you have a Verizon or Sprint iPhone, what you say is unlikely. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA rather than GSM which isn't used pretty much anywhere than in the US. They don't support GSM at all, so they aren't going to work in any other country.

        • Not true. When I go to the US (or travel) I buy a prepaid sim card for local calls.

          Verizon is able to sell you a sim card for your iphone if you have a 5 or later. If you have a 4S, you are right, but it's been some years since that was state of the art.

          It's cheaper for cell phone manufacturers to make 1 chip for all the bands, then have to retool for each different cell provider

    • Unbundling phones and contracts would be a win. People would see the actual cost of their devices. Unfortunately, the carriers would keep the monthly rates the same, or even raise them.

      Up here in Canada, we finally got rid of 3-year contract terms. The carriers raised prices almost the next day. Luckily my contract was only 2 years anyway, and it was worded such that plan/rate will stay the same for the forseeable future, provided I don't get a phone through the carrier (not that I planned to).

      It simply boi

      • > It simply boils down to greed at this point

        Greed and a whole lot of stupid. Sprint has two brands for the same company, Sprint brand and Boost.
        Boost is $35. Sprint is $85 or whatever with a "free" $150 phone. People have the choice, and they choose to pay an extra $50 / month for 36 months = $1,800 for that phone. Not just uneducated people either. I bet someone will get all defensive and reply to this post with justifications of why it's not stupid of them to pay $1,800 for a $150 phone, and th

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Boost is $35. Sprint is $85 or whatever with a "free" $150 phone. People have the choice, and they choose to pay an extra $50 / month for 36 months = $1,800 for that phone.

          Actually, with proper Sprint service, I believe you get unlimited and uncapped data, instead of throttled at 2.5GBytes/month, and more than that, you can roam onto Verizon's network when Sprint towers aren't in-range.

          It's been reported a number of times that Sprint earns more money, per customer, on cheaper prepaid plans like Boost, than

    • The carriers now will say that they have to raise prices or even completely do away with contract subsidies in order to be competitive.

      Then they'd have to compete with their MVNOs and T-Mobile USA, all of which have been itemizing the hardware and the service for years. Prepaid MVNOs have always sold the phone up front, and even before T-Mobile branded itself "the un-carrier", it had the SIM-only "Even More Plus" plan that offered a discount for bringing a compatible phone or buying one up front.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    US is way to large for having only 3 (assuming the sprint & t-mobile merge goes through) big wireless providers. If you want competition you have to allow more players in the game.

  • It is flawed to think that MORE laws will fix a problem. If a problem exists, it is likely due to the fact that there are too many laws to begin with.

    When it comes to laws, less is most definitely more.

  • That's why almost everywhere in the US there is a monopoly on Cable TV and Telephone, which also mafically translates into a monopoly or biopoloy for Internet access and municipal fiber is supressed. Seems like those could be the actions of a money whoring jackss who wants the US to have crappy Intrnet, not someone who embaraces comptition.

    Just saying.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      which also mafically translates into a monopoly or biopoloy for Internet access and municipal fiber is supressed.

      I recall reading a paper which studied market behavior and it concluded that even 4 or 5 companies that aren't colluding can still naturally behave like a cartel.

      It's not just enough to have competitors, you must have meaningful competition.

    • by sysrammer (446839)
      "biopoloy" A word for the Hoi Biopoloi.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      That's why almost everywhere in the US there is a monopoly on Cable TV and Telephone

      The Fed doesn't have a thing to do with local franchise agreements.

      Since the late 90s, technology has allowed telephone companies to provide TV, and cable companies to provide telephone service, so it's a duopoly all the way. Then you can throw in satellite providers of TV and internet, and cellular providers of phone and internet, and let's not forget the superior option of OTA TV antennas, and most everyone has several ch

  • Meanwhile, the really important issues, such as the NSA spying on everyone are being ignored.

    This is just a sop, aimed at geeks to get them to forget about Snowdon and many other important issues for a while, perhaps to make people think that the politicians actually care about what people think.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @01:50AM (#47536999)
    This is kind of a double post, but it's important enough to warrant a separate post.

    Unfortunately, Congress has dilly dallied on this issue for too long. We're now past the point where mandating carriers unlock phones will help. There are still phones which will work across a broad range of carriers [phonescoop.com], but they are now few and far between. Most of the newer phones are limited in their frequencies so they'll only work fully with one carrier. Take it to another carrier and you'll either suffer degraded service, or even lack certain service like LTE. So even if you can unlock your phone from the carrier, it won't do you any good because you'll lose 4g or even 3g capability if you try to use it with another carrier.

    The only thing that will help now is a law mandating that carriers must provide service to any phone a customer brings with them that's capable of operating on their network. That will open up the markets so that manufacturers begin selling multi-carrier and world phones directly to customers (bypassing the carriers). You can still buy a phone from Verizon if you really want, and it'll be crippled so as not to work with any other carrier even if unlocked. But the smarter person would buy the version of the phone sold by the manufacturer at Best Buy or Amazon which supports enough frequencies that it'll work with any carrier. That's actually what Google did with the Nexus 5 - it supports enough frequencies to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and a bunch of other international carriers. It's technically capable of working on Verizon (with LTE in areas where Verizon provides band 4 - New York and Los Angeles from what I hear), but Verizon blacklists it so you can't use it on their network [youtube.com]. What we need is a law making it illegal for Verizon to do that.
  • This bill actually does very little. The DMCA is written very broadly, and has been commonly interpreted as to prohibit cell phone unlocking. Because Congress, in the 90s, when they enacted the stupid thing, was aware that the DMCA could go too far, but didn't want to be cautious or have to keep reexamining the law itself, they gave authority to the Library of Congress to add exceptions to it in specific cases. The process for these exceptions is that every three years, anyone who wants an exception has to

  • I can either pay AT&T $150 for 800meg roaming data. Or I can pay $7 in Singapore for a 1gig on a local sym. $30 in Japan for 1gig local sim. Etc.... I forgot the price in Italy but it was in a similar range. TMobile has their free international roaming but it's 2G which is really really slow.

    Unlocking the phone isn't just about switching carriers

    PS: So far I've just bought uncontracted unlocked phones.

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