Regional carriers voice support for cell phone unlocking

Unlocked-iPhone 4S

I find it peculiar that regional wireless carriers in the United States have traditionally been way more vocal in their support of Apple and sound business practices than the corporate behemoths like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile, the nation’s top carriers.

A new report out this morning praises some regional carriers for having the guts to back a broader initiative to make cell phone unlocking legal again. Contrast the move to AT&T’s “straightforward” policy of locking your device to its network until you’ve met the terms of your service agreement.

Specifically, rural carriers such as U.S. Cellular and Bluegrass Cellular are now backing these looming bills, likely in a bid to appease to its iPhone customers. Remember, these same guys happily undercut major carriers’ iPhone deals by at least $50…

Granted, these smaller carriers are probably supporting cell phone unlocking in hopes of attracting iPhone customers, but this doesn’t change the fact they support cell phone unlocking whereas the big four carriers wholeheartedly oppose the practice.

Bloomberg quotes Steven Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association:

Smaller carriers have a very difficult time getting access to smartphones and handsets,” said Steven Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association, which represents such companies as U.S. Cellular Corp. (USM) and Bluegrass Cellular.

“The unlocking is one way the consumer can make the decision that I can try someone else who has better coverage in the area where I live or play.”

U.S. Cellular has about six million subscribers, which pales in comparison with Verizon’s 98 million and AT&T’s 78 million subscribers. Backing the cell phone unlocking initiative that AT&T and Verizon clearly loathe is also their way of giving major telcos the finger.

As we reported Monday, several officials have backed the initiative to introduce legislation to again legalize cell phone unlocking, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D) and Charles Grassley (R), both of whom introduced a bill on Monday to overturn the Library of Congress’s decision and direct the agency to consider adding tablet computers to devices that people are allowed to unlock without being criminalized.

Senator Leahy told Bloomberg that when consumers finish the terms of their contract, “they should be able to keep their phones and make their own decision about which wireless provider to use” rather than being “forced to stay with their original provider due to software that restricts a phone to only one network.”

Bloomberg also notes that a few other U.S. Senators have backed the initiative, like Senators Ron Wyden (D), Amy Klobuchar (D), House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) and John Conyers (D).

A White House petition calling for allowing cell phone unlocking drew more than 110,000 signatures after an exemption by the Library of Congress in a digital copyright that allows unlocking had expired.

Further reading: how to unlock the iPhone.