New FCC chairman Tom Wheeler just told wireless phone companies to stop dawdling and pass rules that let people move their phones to other carriers.
He wants the rules in place by December.
The issue is called "unlocking" and thanks to a crazy law that went into effect in January, it became illegal for you to unlock your smartphone or tablet to use it with another carrier, even if you paid off the contract and owned the phone.
Unless a carrier chooses to let you unlock a phone, doing it on your own requires hacking into the software. And that could send you to to jail for five years.
The FCC has been talking to phone companies for eight months to get them to pass five rules about unlocking:
- Tell consumers up front about unlocking.
- Unlock devices when people pay off their contract and own the device.
- Tell people that their devices are eligible to be unlocked, without an additional fee.
- Unlock a phone within two business days, or tell people why their request to unlock a phone has been denied within that time.
- Unlock phones for people in the military when they get deployed.
Such rules would be a good thing, says advocate Sina Khanifar, who founded an organization called Fix The DCMA to change the rules about unlocking.
But the crazy law still needs to be fixed, Khanifar says.
"Congress needs to pass a bill that would enable to consumer’s to unlock their devices on their own, without requiring carrier cooperation," he said in an email to Business Insider.
There are a couple of bills in Congress right now that would do that, particularly The “Unlocking Technology Act" introduced Rep. Zoe Lofgren. (H.R. 1892).
Khanifar hopes that smartphone users will contact their representatives and tell them to support that bill.
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