Once again, we have arrived on the most magical of holidays - the annual unveiling of HalfLife 3, and day on which co-workers believe it is appropriate to duct tape air horns behind doors. I speak, of course, about April Fools Day. As has become their custom, Google launched lighthearted "pranks" for each of their various services (with other tech sites following suit), and we have done our best to round up the humorous products and tweaks surfacing thus far. Warning: spoilers...
Thank You CTIA for Setting the US Cell Phone Market Back 10 Years
While we know that this is a US-specific issue, it also serves as a great opportunity to ensure that the entire world is reading so that they don’t make the same mistakes we do in this country. As many of you are aware, our entire Government seemingly has a bad tendency to listen to extraordinarily greedy people and agree on things that make people wonder what in the world were they thinking? Some of the most notable examples include (but are not limited) the consideration of a small bill that “almost came to be” known as SOPA. Unfortunately (for us), we are the ones who are always scrambling, trying to dodge this idiocy called “law making” that our tax payer dollars normally help fund. Furthermore, we (the people) are the ones normally tasked with trying to open the eyes of our own selected officials to force them to understand that the interests of THE PEOPLE are NOT the same as the interest of a few select interest groups.
I have not yet begun talking about the main topic of the article, but have instead made a wide generalization of what currently happens in our law-making bodies. Having given a somewhat “hearty” introduction to a rage-fueled article, here goes the main course. In case you have been living under a rock for the last 3 months or so, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was “revamped” in October of last year, much like it does every 3 years or so. Our good friend XDA TV Producer azrienoch covered a small, very inaccurate aspect of the law (needless to say, I am being sarcastic). Back then, we did not make much of a stink about this issue because quite frankly it was not really all that important, as the most “discussed” topic was the randomness of leaving tablets out of the exemptions. Certain things baffle you so much that one truly cannot fathom getting past that section without feelings of nausea and dizziness. However, once you get past “Section B” of the newly amended exemptions list, you get to the “heart of the matter,” which for us is Section C. This is located in pages 16-20, for those of you interested in reading stuff other than how jailbreaking your iPad is actually legal.
The core of this section essentially was untouched for the last 6 years or so, and essentially granted anyone “the right” to legally SIM-unlock your cell phone to be able to make it work on any GSM capable carrier, without any legal repercussions or being “frowned upon” by your almighty service provider(s). For example, if you were discontent with T-Mobile and wanted to jump ship to AT&T without having to buy another handset, this was possible. All you needed to do was call your carrier, see if you met a certain set of conditions (which was to have been with the company for about 3 months with current service and to own the device), and you would get an unlock code within 24-48 hrs via SMS or e-mail. This was simple enough and relatively trouble free.
However, due to the evolution of our markets (or so this document states) as well as the abundance of legacy unlocked mobile devices, the exemption is no longer necessary according to the CTIA, which is, for all practical purposes, a group of lobbyists composed of the larger US carriers as well as some manufacturers. They go on the record to state that the SIM-locking of mobile devices is an essential part of today’s current business model. Thus, they must have control of how and if users unlock their devices. The current text states that it will be entirely up to the carrier to grant you permission to unlock your device whether or not you are on contract, and they will have up to 90 days to grant you your request. Again, this is IF and only IF they allow you to do that. What are the alternatives, you ask? Well, according to the document, you have none without being treated like a common thief, meaning that if they catch you SIM unlocking your device, you could be heavily fined or even imprisoned. Why? Heavens only know why…
Before continuing, there are a few distinctions to be made, particularly for those of you with CDMA devices locked onto carriers such as Sprint and Verizon. The new rules are not really specific as to whether or not they cover CDMA technologies. However, due to the way these devices work, the ruling has no effect on their current model. CDMA devices are not unlocked in the same way a GSM device is. In fact, CDMA devices cannot be unlocked at all. Their internal serial number is normally added into the carrier’s list of approved or white listed devices and paired with your phone number. This is a 100% carrier driven decision, and more often than not, CDMA carriers do not allow you to bring devices from competing networks. Some of the smaller players in the market, such as Cricket and MetroPCS do allow some devices to be brought over, but the sad reality is that if you want to have service from either of the aforementioned larger carriers and still keep your trusty device, you are out of luck. There are ways around these, but they are rather illegal in nature unfortunately.
It is almost no surprise that the US is doing this, given previous policies regulating cellular technology. Anyone out there will likely recall how difficult it was to get decent devices in the US prior to 2005. Most newer devices that were launched in Europe never actually saw the light of day in the US. And if they did, they were heavily crippled with many features taken out for no apparent reason. However, due to the skyrocketing popularity of smartphones, most manufacturers recognized the US as an interesting market to look into. Technology by the different networks advanced, and we finally got to a point where we could finally say that we entered into the golden age of mobility like the rest of the world. That said, much of the rest of the world has been far more advanced in this end. UK carriers offer contract-free devices. More often than not, these devices are indeed SIM-unlocked. Why is our ‘business model’ so much more different than Europe’s you ask? For instance, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile’s mothership) is fine and healthy in Europe under the SIM-unlocked device model, whereas T-Mobile USA almost went under about a year and a half ago. Yet we are the ones who would hurt the current economic model and overall mobile market by SIM-unlocking our devices.
So, now what? If you want a new carrier-unlocked device or want to unlock it yourself, you have about 90 days (page 21) to get things done. After this transition period is done, your device will likely never be able to accept other SIM cards. You will be trapped, bound, and chained at the carrier’s mercy. We sincerely hope that this abomination of a law gets repelled, amended, and that whoever accepted such changes to an already working model is no longer in a position to make such mistakes. If you truly think that you have the people’s interests in mind by making such idiocy into law, I have a very strong feeling that we are headed in the wrong path altogether. Carriers looked for the most obscure and twisted place to state that they want to trap you in and never let you go, something that is hidden enough from the general populace to ensure that not too many people complain and that is seemingly similar enough to the context of the rest of the law, so that not too many politicians would question it. They cleverly tied SIM-locking to a single precedent on software ownership, and somehow extrapolated that to SIM-unlocking stating that you are a cell phone owner is not owner of the software but rather a licensee. As a result, they have no right to extend its functionality. I am not sure if I am more sick about the fact that such an approach was made or that it was actually deemed as valid.
Please, if you value your freedom to choose your carrier without needing to pay hefty Early Termination Fees or having to swap handsets when your service is lacking, make your voices heard. This is NOT done in the name of stopping piracy, which is what DMCA was originally intended for. This is all orchestrated by people who only wish to find more ways of squeezing every last penny out of our pockets as consumers. Reach out to others in your circles, read into FSF, EFF, and all the other advocacy groups that work tirelessly to defend our electronic freedoms. Contact your local government officials. YOU chose them to represent YOU, and as such, they have the duty to do hear you if you have a problem with the government. Help us spread the word about the discontent of the general public. A Petition was started this past weekend, asking the President to shoot this down. We require 100,000 signatures, and so far, the petition has collected close to 29,000. If this isn’t modified, lets just say that you better make sure that you have the desired service in your area with your current carrier, because you will be together for a very, very, long time.
Thanks for reading.
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