Back in October of last year, news broke over a change in the legality of unlocking smartphones that were attached to carriers or purchased on-contract. The Librarian of Congress decided that as of January 26, you are no longer allowed to unlock your phone unless given permission by the carrier you purchased it from. Well, there are some ways around that, but for the most part, you are locked onto the carrier you bought your phone from until your contract is up. We should point out that this has nothing to do with “unlocking” the bootloader of your phone.
So let’s be clear about a couple of things here. First, unlocking a phone in this instance, has nothing to do with rooting or bootloaders – we’re talking about SIM unlocking your phone so that it can work on another carrier. If you want to hack the hell out of your smartphone and unlock its bootloader, feel free to continue to do that for the foreseeable future. Second, you can buy plenty of phones that are already unlocked – like the Nexus 4, which can be used at will on whatever carrier you choose. Third, if you are under contract with say AT&T, but you want to unlock your phone to take it over to T-Mobile, you can ask for permission to do so. I would assume then that AT&T has some sort of policy to decide if they will allow that, and will then provide an unlock key or something to get you on your way. Fourth, this doesn’t affect most Verizon phones (other than the iPhone 5 which comes unlocked on Big Red), as they haven’t ever really been in the business of unlocking, like AT&T and T-Mobile with their GSM networks and phones. There are some exceptions in there, though, as many of their newest phones are global-ready and will work on other carriers if unlocked (DROID DNA for example). Fifth, if you buy phones at full retail, not on-contract, they may come unlocked already.
Why is it that the Librarian of Congress has made this move? Their logic runs off of the idea that they don’t think you should take advantage of a carrier subsidy (cheap phone on contract) and then turn right around and ditch that carrier for another. They also feel that you have plenty of options out there for unlocked phones that don’t involve carriers.
Last, if you are super upset by this news, feel free to join this petition.
This news isn’t all exciting for those who like to purchase phones cheaply from this carrier and plan to unlock it to take it over to that carrier. With that said, I’d say this probably won’t affect most of you, especially on Verizon.
Cheers Beaver, Robert, and Tom!