Thanks to a federal regulatory agreement now officially in effect, tablet and smartphone owners can unlock devices from a carrier as long as the contractual agreement between the carrier and customer has been met.
In a nutshell, all telecom subscribers, once they've met a contractual deal with a carrier, can now take their phone or tablet and sign on with another compatible network provider. Carriers are responsible for informing consumers of when they're eligible for unlocking and assist in unlocking devices within two business days.
The news is the result of several years of efforts by consumer advocacy groups and new rules borne from a "consumer code for wireless service" managed by the wireless trade group CTIA.
Traditionally most providers have sold locked smartphones and tablets as part of a contract service plan for a period of two years. Traditionally the carriers have typically subsidized the cost of a smartphone to entice new subscribers and keep current customers.
In unlocking a phone or tablet, a user now has better carrier and plan options. In response carriers are now crafting new wireless discount plan deals for consumers opting to move away from their a device provider but who already have a phone or tablet in hand.
The unlocking process varies between providers. The major four carriers now have clear instructions and assistance online and through telephone support lines to help customers wanting to unlock a device. The federal agreement with carriers requires that providers offer their customers the unlocking services free of charge.
There may be a fee charged for customers who don't have the phone unlocked by the original provider and ask a new provider to do the unlocking effort.
The federal law, called the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," was approved by the Library of Congress last summer and signed by President Barack Obama.
"The bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act puts consumers first, promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace, and encourages continued use of existing devices," said Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont lawmaker who authored the bill.
As Tech Times reported last August, the law mainly applies to carriers who use GSM technology such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Carriers like Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology. Devices built for CDMA networks cannot be used on a GSM network and vice versa.
While the law went into official mode Wednesday, it could be short lived. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which the regulation falls under, is reviewed every three years and this year is a review year. That means the law could be reversed at some point, though given the industry's response and new push on 'unlocked' plan strategies it's likely not going to happen.