As with the UK, many phones in the US are sold under contract and are given at very discounted rates or even free in some cases if you sign a contract for year withe service provider.
Before that it was illegal to unlock your phone but finally in November 2006 it came out in court that it’s ok now.
Most cell phones in the United States are purchased as part of a service plan. The phone itself is cheap or free, but it must be bought as part of a one-year or two-year service contract. Phones can also be purchased separately, but are often hundreds of dollars more expensive then the phones that come with service plans. This is because phone companies take a loss on the phone up front and hope to make up that loss over the life of the contract in monthy fees.
Nearly all of the phones purchased as part of a service plan (and even some that are purchased separately) are SIM locked to only work with that phone companies network. The phone’s software will reject SIM cards from competing phone networks. Phones bought from T-Mobile only work with T-Mobile, phones bought from Cingular only work with Cingular, etc. This way the phone company can be certain that a customer is stuck and they will make back their investment.
The fact is the protection was frequently broken and many people were unlocking their owns anyway. The US made a smart decision this time to legitimize the dodgy unlocking market and make it straight forward. It also gives the consumers back the rights they should have anyway.
Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced six new exceptions to DMCA rules. Among those was the declaration that breaking SIM locks will not be considered a DMCA violation starting on Monday:
5. Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.
This has the potential to legitimize the shady market of cell phone unlockers. It also has the potential to change how cell phone companies do business. If awareness of these rules spreads and legitimate cell phone unlocker services appear, the current cell phone business model might not make as much sense. It is also likely to further frustrate “pay as you go” cell phone providers who have been trying to stop resellers who purchase their phones and then sell them overseas for a profit.
So please, feel free to and unlock your phone, it’s no longer a DMCA violation!