Ok, You can Unlock ’em Again

If you want, you can unlock your cellphone in the US again

When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came into play a few years ago, it changed the way many people looked at not only their websites, computers, books, etc., it changed the way they looked at their digital phones, too.  While it was ok to unlock cell and smartphones that were tied to one specific carrier, before its implementation, afterwards, you had to get specific permissions.  That was fine until about 18 months ago. After a January 2013 decision by the Librarian of Congress, it became a violation of copyright, and therefore the DMCA to unlock your phone.

unlockcell

Recently, with the passing of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in both the House and the Senate, President Obama signed the rapidly passed law which reverses that decision, until January 2016, that is.

The Librarian of Congress will again at that time review the DMCA, its previous decision to ban the unlocking, the law recently put into place by Congress and signed by the President and rule again if cell phone unlocking should be banned.

This effectively gives you an 18 month hiatus on unlocking your phone. If you want to do it, now is the time.  After that, it could become illegal again.

Congress wasn’t prepared to deal with the underlying issue of copyright that makes it otherwise illegal to unlock your cell or smartphone.  The issue is largely who owns the hardware and how owns the license to the software that runs on that hardware.  The problem stems from the way that cellphones are sold here in the US.

With subsidized phones, argument can be made that until the contract term is up and the phone is “off contract,” that the phone carrier really owns the hardware and holds the license to the software that runs the device.  In that case, making any kind of modification to any subsidized phone would be considered illegal until title for the device passed to the account holder.

With contract-less, financed phones (like those sold by T-Mobile USA), the issue isn’t any clearer.  There’s no clear sense of who actually holds the title to the device while it’s being paid off.  Like a car or any other financed property, the account holder may physically hold the device, but the title to the property is held by the lien holder until the note is paid in full and the lien holder relinquishes title to the property.  While the user may cancel service at any time, in order to do so, they must first pay off the remaining balance to the phone.  After that, the account holder can do what it wants to with the device, as the license for the software running the hardware passes to the account holder. At least, that’s the popular thought…

The problem here is that there’s no clear definition of who holds that title or when it is relinquished and by whom.  If those terms exist in anyone’s wireless contract, no one has brought them to light at this point.  And then there’s the possibility that the wireless carrier could maintain the license to that software even if ownership of the device passes to the account holder. Since the licensee can assert specific rights to protect their license (and therefore have some kind of hold over the condition of the hardware), they could theoretically prevent the account holder and owner of the device from making modifications to the hardware.  At that point, you have to consider who’s rights are more enforceable – the software licensee’s or the device owner’s; and that’s the rabbit hole that Congress doesn’t want to debate and get caught up in.

While the Librarian of Congress can reverse his earlier decision and allow cell and smartphone during the next DMCA review, I’d be surprised of that happened.  The review – as I understand what he does per the DMCA – is review the law, his previous decision(s), and if anything in the law has changed. Since there have been NO changes to the actual DMCA; and this temporary override expires before the January 2016 review takes place, I see no reason why the Librarian of Congress would reverse that decision, leaving us where we were before President Obama signed this temporary exemption.

For any permanent change to the process to come about, Congress would have to change the DMCA. If they did not do that here, then I see little chance of that changing.

This may be an interim election year where some Congressional seats change hands, but I don’t see this becoming a big issue.  While it might be a blip on the 2016 Presidential Campaign Trail, I don’t see this issue gaining enough steam to become big enough to be a huge campaign issue.

How big of an issues is this to you?  Are you a chronic iOS jail breaker or Android rooter?  Is unlocking your phone something that you need to do due to travel or are you just trying to figure out what carrier is the best deal for you without having to buy another cell phone? How important is this to you?  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this as well as the DMCA?  I’d love to hear what you have to say. If it’s compelling enough, I’ll expound more on the issue in a separate column and get your name up in lights.

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‘K… Unlock ‘Em if You Got ‘Em!

Major US carriers agree to unlocking principles.  Story at 11pm…

shutterstock_129802106I’ve been following this particular story for the past few weeks or so.  Quite honestly, this particular issue is near and dear to my heart as I cut my journalistic teeth on mobility – all forms of mobile computing to be precise – and its probably the one computing issue I really know the most about.  Today’s development is significant, as it brings the US closer to parity with other countries in the world when it comes to interoperability (but the true form of that is a whole other ball of wax for a later date…)

Anywho… the four major wireless carriers in the US – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as fellow CTIA member US Cellular, have all agreed to the following:
1.    To post their device unlocking policies on their websites
2.    To notify customers once their devices are eligible for unlocking
3.    To unlock mobile devices for customers after their service contract has expired
4.    To unlock prepaid mobile devices no later than 1 year after their initial activation
5.    To respond to unlock requests within 2 business days
6.    Military customers who become deployed can have their devices immediately unlocked upon providing the appropriate deployment paperwork

According to former NFL wide receiver and current CTIA President and CEO, Steve Largent, “…this agreement will continue to foster the world-leading range of devices and offerings that Americans enjoy today.”

While I applaud not only the wireless carriers and the CTIA for coming together on this, let’s not forget that carriers in the European Union have had similar policies in place for a while now.  Technologically, the US is behind the curve. This is a catch up move.

However, it is a significant and important development; and its one that I’m very glad came about. While this doesn’t supersede the restrictions in the DMCA that prevents cell phone owners from unlocking phones on their own, it will give cell phone users a clear understanding of when and how they can get their phones unlocked and if they will have to purchase what is commonly called a “burner phone” if and when they travel internationally before they’re eligible to unlock their current phone with their home-based carrier.  (that still doesn’t sit well with me, but its much better than what we had before).

The six, adopted unlocking principles, in their entirety, are:

1. Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.

2. Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.

3. Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.

4. Notice. Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former customers a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of the policy on the carrier’s website.

5. Response Time. Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.

6. Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers

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Cellphone battery that will take just 15 minutes to recharge and last more than a week

Imagine a cellphone battery that will take just 15 minutes to recharge and last more than a week. That dream battery could be closer to reality thanks to Northwestern University research.

A team of engineers has created an electrode for lithium-ion batteries (such as those found in cellphones and iPods) that allows the batteries to hold a charge up to 10 times greater than current technology. Batteries with the new electrode also can charge 10 times faster than current batteries.

The researchers combined two chemical engineering approaches to address two major battery limitations (energy capacity and charge rate) in one fell swoop. In addition to better batteries for cellphones and iPods, the technology could pave the way for more efficient, smaller batteries for electric cars.

The technology could be seen in the marketplace in the next three to five years, the researchers said.

We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery’s charge life by 10 times,” said Harold H. Kung, lead author of the paper. “Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today.” – Kung is professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also is a Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellow.

For more details, see the source article at Northwestern University but prepare yourself with strong coffee. Battery icon source from Vector Junky.

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