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Unlocking Phones, Locking Down Your Rights

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It's Saturday night and I have a headache. Meh, it should come to me via the Librarian of Congress, but it doesn't. I think it's low sugar... but that's not important right now (Yes. Yes that is an "Airplane" reference). What is important is that, by the time the general public catches on to why it's so important that we stand up for our rights on little things like cell phone unlocking, the big things like liberty and the pursuit of happiness will have long been wrestled from us and it will be "our" fault.

The problem is this... no one cares. No one cares, because they don't know.   I mean, if we look at the numbers here in the US, how many people are really unlocking their phones on a regular basis and moving between GSM service providers (we won't even get into CDMA flashing), is it enough that the public at large is really effected by the decision? If you asked people on the street about what unlocking their phones was, most would probably tell you that they don't password protect their phones even though they know they should. But, that is today.

Tomorrow, cars with built-in internet connections will be mass produced. Can you imagine being locked in to a service provider for the five to ten years that you own a particular car? And, allow me to further clarify that "tomorrow." It's coming sooner than you think! At the recent L.A. Autoshow, cell phone carriers announced partnerships with auto manufacturers to provide what amounts to cell phone service direct to your cars, in effect turning your cars into giant cell phones/wifi hotspots (geeks bare with me on that one- I know it's somewhat a misnomer but the point remains nonetheless). Those services are already available on high end cars like Audis and BMWs, but Chrysler and other makers with more budget conscious lines will be debuting telematics systems that include cell service this year. Verizon just acquired Hughes Telematics and a Chrysler, Sprint marriage spawned "Uconnect" which will be available in the RAM 1500 and Viper SRT initially and then trickle down to other models.

What about our homes? As more tech moves to the cloud and we rely on wireless services, what precedents are we allowing to be set which will govern our future lives? Did you know that AT&T began testing home automation and security systems last year? Verizon Communications has done the same. If these home automation systems become standardized and are as simple as buying a new home and choosing who your service provider would be, is it far fetched to think that precedents like DMCA phone unlocking ruling will give way to providers locking buyers into contracts that stifle industry competition which will ultimately hurt consumers by keeping pricing high and choices few? And let's not forget that whenever a new iPhone comes out, eBay is flooded with people selling their old iPhones. A carrier locked law means that many phones sold on eBay will lose value as potential buyers won't be able to take a phone to the compatible carrier of their own choosing.

Then there are the MVNOs. Never heard of 'em? MVNO means Mobile Virtual Network Operator and there are already companies offering cellular service as MVNOs. What they do is buy airtime from an actual network operator like Sprint, for instance, and then resell that service to consumers. Smaller startups are doing this, as well as larger cable companies. What does this mean for you? Better pricing as more choice enters the market. Choice is never a bad thing for the consumer, but for the corporation (depending on how it is run) it can be a very bad thing. It means that a company actually has to innovate to remain competitive. They have to provide services customers want at prices customers are willing to pay... not "forced" to pay because there really aren't any other options. Don't forget that when you pay for a subsidized phone, you are essentially "financing" that phone purchase with your 1 or 2-year contract, so until you pay that phone off, I don't think it ludicrous that a company has some say in what you do with that phone but that should come with options not legal consequence. Options like the ability to pay off your phone and guarantee they must unlock it once you do. Want it unlocked? Pay that early termination fee, or a higher monthly contract price or whatever other options the market will bear. Placing you at the mercy of a carrier and intentionally vague small print is not ok. After all, they're first responsibility isn't to you, but to their shareholders so your needs sit lower on the totem pole for them which isn't in your best interests.

Is stopping me from unlocking something I own, locking me into a future my children will have no ownership of? I know that's a giant leap, but as I watch so many laws pass which have the potential for great abuse (National Defense Authorization Act anyone?) if usurped by those who would care only for amassing things, conquests and power, I have to wonder what my children's future is going to look like if we as consumers aren't educated and active in lobbying for our own interests. Yes, even something as seemingly insignificant as the right to have our cellphones unlocked.

"Chiri mo tsumoreba yama ni naru" is a Japanese proverb which means, "Even dust if piled can become a mountain".

If you feel as I do after reading this article, a petition has already been put up over at Whitehouse.gov asking "that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal." You can find that here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/make-unlocking-cell-phones-legal/1g9KhZG7

 

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