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Port My Phone, Not Just My Number

Unlocking cellphones (GSM phones, anyway) has been part of the game of cellphone ownership for some time… at least, outside the US.  Virtually all the cell phones I have are unlocked so that I can purchase cheap prepaid SIMs when travelling.  No point in paying Rogers $3.50 per minute, when a local SIM can be had for $0.50/minute, or less.

But until now US carriers have taken the position that unlocking a US cell phone is in fact a violation of the DMCA, which prohibits the defeat of copy protection on copyrighted works.  Their position has been that it is unlawful for you to use the cell phone you paid for except as a terminal on the network of the carrier that you bought it from.  Goofy logic, in my opinion, and clearly a misuse of copyright.  Unlockers aren’t trying to copy the firmware in the cellphone.  They’re just trying to use the phone they’ve paid money for, albeit perhaps not on the carrier where the phone was originally purchased. 

As of Monday, however, the US Copyright office has said that unlocking cellphones will not be considered a copyright violation.  You’ll be free to unlock your phone, and take it to another carrier. 

Lots of people have applauded this move.  Let’s be realistic, though.  It’s just a babsytep.  The copyright office hasn’t said that carriers must unlock the phones,  just that you won’t be prosecuted if you do.  That stinks. Given that you can port a phone number to another network, wouldn’t a reasonable next step be for the FCC to require carriers to also port the phone itself? And what about CDMA phones?  While we’re at it, let’s require carriers to make CDMA phones to be portable from one network to another.

That would be a move worthy of applause, instead of this measly half-step.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Frank Miller November 25, 2006, 4:08 pm

    How does this square with the fact that the carriers heavily subsidize equipment purchases? I mean, if they are paying Motorola to provide me with a phone under the assumption that I'm using the minutes from their network, and I then use the minutes from somebody else, I'm get the to use the phone for a much lower price that it actually would cost me otherwise. In other words, my carrier has basically subsidized me to use someone elses minutes. That doesn't seem like it can last long.

    You can't have it both ways. You can't have the carriers pay part of our equipment cost and then expect them not to want you to pay them for network usage. Let me put it to you this way, what if you had some client binary software that was part of your iotum offering? What if one of your customers provided that client binary to their customers for free under the assumption that the client was going to come back to some iotum server that they charged by the month for? Wouldn't they be steamed if the consumer somehow found a way to redirect that client to some other server? Two things would happen, your customer would be asking you for a way to lock in the client and you'd be working very hard to make that happen…


  • Alec November 25, 2006, 8:55 pm

    That’s what a contract is for. The carrier subsidizes the cost of the phone to get me onto their network, and then locks me in for a period of time to ensure that I pay for that phone. If I try to break that contract, then I pay a penalty. The technology lock is just adding insult to injury. It says that even when the contracted period is done, my phone is a useless brick unless used on their network. That’s abuse, in my opinion.

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