A Trek employee demonstrates the Ai Ball wifi video camera in Singapore December 19, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
While a controversial ruling by the Library of Congress has made unlocking smartphones illegal in the United States, Canada is moving to require carriers to unlock phones.
"Wireless providers would face limits on early termination fees and must unlock phones under 'reasonable terms' under new draft guidelines released Monday by Canada's telecommunications regulator," writes Canadian news broadcaster CBC.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is soliciting feedback from the public on the new proposed rules until Feb. 15.
The rules offer protections to consumers in contracts with wireless carriers, as well as allow them to monitor their wireless usage and restrict exorbitant fees.
"Wireless providers be required to unlock customers' wireless devices under 'reasonable terms.' Options for those terms include fees and time frames," says one proposed rule, in the legalese common to regulations.
"Early termination fees can only include subsidies on the price of phone or other mobile device and discounts the customer received for signing on to a contract of a specific length," says another.
The rules are being well-received by both consumer advocates and wireless carriers in Canada.
In contrast, the Library of Congress in the United States moved to cover smartphones under copyright law, preventing consumers from unlocking them to use on other carriers, in a change at odds with previous interpretations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
"The ruling stemmed from a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that asked the Librarian of Congress to renew a 2006 rule exempting cellphone unlocking so handsets can be used with other telecom carriers," writes CBS. "At the time, the EFF said cell phone unlockers had been successfully sued under the DMCA even though there was no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking."
Now, consumers face harsh penalties if they don't have the permission of their carrier when unlocking phones.
"People who purchased their phones after Jan. 26 and unlock their devices are now subject to $2,500 fines. Larger operations could be fined as much as $500,000 and imprisoned for 5 years," says CBS.
The ruling clamps down on the freedom of consumers to determine how they use the devices they buy. It prevents consumers from moving to a different carrier whose pricing or terms are more palatable, locking users into lengthy and expensive contracts that result in high profits for the carriers at the expense of consumer freedom and choice.
"What really infuriates me here," writes James Temple in the San Francisco Chronicle, "is that these are the very companies that cry about the importance of the free market every time someone threatens to raise their taxes or impose new market regulations. Yet they're perfectly happy to stomp on the property rights of their own customers."
What do you think about the new ruling in the United States?