It's now easier for consumers to change their phone service provider without having to buy a new phone now that President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill that lets consumers unlock their phones.
The bill, called the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, essentially means that consumers are free to unlock their phones whenever they want, as long as their device is paid for in full. It also reverses a decision made by Congress in 2012, which made it illegal for consumers to unlock phones locked to a certain provider.
Here are the top five things you should know about the act.
1. It will not necessarily be easy to switch carriers
While it is certainly a step forward to allow consumers to unlock their devices, that does not necessarily mean that it will be easy to switch. Right now the law mainly applies to carriers who use GSM technology such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Carriers like Verizon and Sprint use a technology called CDMA. Devices built for CDMA networks are not able to switch to a GSM network, and vice versa.
2. Wireless carriers don't have to let you unlock your phone without a valid reason
This is especially true for consumers who are under previously signed agreements with their carriers. Most of the time, consumers will need to satisfy the terms of the contract signed before they will be able to unlock their devices.
3. Most people won't need to unlock their phone
This act certainly helps for users who do want to switch carriers and keep their device, although studies have shown that the majority of users prefer to upgrade their device after their contract is fulfilled. Not only that, but many people are satisfied with the carrier that they are currently on, meaning that the ability to unlock their device and switch is redundant for them.
4. The act is especially helpful for people traveling abroad
One situation in which it will be helpful for consumers to be able to switch carriers is if they are traveling abroad. This is especially true of users who are on GSM networks like AT&T, as it means that they will be able to take their phone almost anywhere in the world to use. Devices on CDMA networks will not be able to taken to anywhere near as many carriers outside the U.S., but they can be taken to some.
5. The act expires in 2015
Unfortunately, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act may be nothing more than a temporary fix to the problem. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which this law falls under, is reviewed every three years, meaning that it could be reversed when it is reviewed in 2015. While it seems unlikely that this will happen, the possibility is still there.