Just as quickly as the mobile phone anti-unlocking law came out, so did the petition to eradicate it. On January 26th of this year, the U.S. Copyright Office made it illegal for both individuals and phone providers to unlock their mobile phones.
For the past decade the Copyright Office allowed mobile unlocking, but the organization unexpectedly decided to interpret the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in a new light. The DMCA makes it illegal to unlock copyrighted material, and the Copyright Office decided that the software embedded in the phones which control phone service access is copyrighted material.
“Unlocking” a phone means opening up the phone’s software to be used by a different phone provider than the one that came with the phone. For example, someone in 2012 who bought an Android that came with Verizon phone service could unlock their phone and now use that Android with Sprint or AT&T or Cricket. Someone in 2013 who buys an Android that comes with Verizon phone service has to stay with Verizon.
This anti-unlocking law hurts consumers who appreciate choice, and it affects VoIP users who appreciate cheap phone service. VoIP phone service is much cheaper than traditional service and offers more features, which is why VoIP continues to enjoy rising popularity. Traditional phone service providers want to keep the anti-unlocking law in place so that users can’t open their phones to use cheaper phone service (such as VoIP) instead of their more expensive traditional phone service.
There is currently a push against the anti-unlocking law. Last month a petition was started in California to overthrow the anti-locking policy using the We the People website of the White House. The petition needed 100,000 signatures before Feb 23, 2013 (which it achieved) to force President Obama’s administration to make an official federal statement on the matter. The petition has 93,000 signatures as of today with about 7,000 more signatures needed in the next 3 days.
Petition signers are hopeful that the federal government will see the anti-unlocking law as an infringement on their right to choose their own phone service plan.
And what does this mean for VoIP? Well, locked phones keep traditional phone service providers on the throne of contracts and forced service. With the locked law, a VoIP user can download a VoIP app to their smartphone and use VoIP as their main service, but they still have to keep the traditional service that came with the phone. If the anti-unlocking law can be overthrown, it opens up the market for more types of phone service to flourish, such as VoIP. It also gives incentives for phone manufacturers to consider an all-VoIP platform.
Things are changing. WiFi networks are expanding, smartphone innovation is improving, and it’s really just a matter of time and the will of public opinion to allows consumers the freedom to choose cheap, reliable, and unlimited service like mobile VoIP to go along with their smartphones.
Rachel Greenberg is site editor for VoIP Review.