The NDP’s Cell Phone Freedom Act

by Jordan Richardson on June 21, 2010

An NDP MP has proposed a resolution that could force cell phone carriers to sell “unlocked” mobile devices. The resolution, called “The Cell Phone Freedom Act,” carries three rule propositions.

First, the Act requires carriers to notify consumers as to whether a particular phone is “locked” to work only on the carrier’s network. Second, the Act would require carriers to remove such a “lock” free of charge after the conclusion of the customer’s contract. Third, the Act requires carriers to remove the “lock” if the customer doesn’t enter into a contract with the carrier within six months of purchasing the device.

Bill C-560 is being proposed by Bruce Hyer, the MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Hyer says that customers are not currently aware that they can switch networks without having to throw out their phones or attempting to “unlock” their phones at an aftermarket location.

Most of Canada’s wireless providers sell devices that are “locked,” meaning that they will only work on the carriers’ designated networks. The excuse given for this is that it enables the carriers to offer sufficient network support for their products.

According to the “Don’t Lock My Freedom” website, cell phone locks serve as restrictions of consumer freedom. More to the point, network locks are “bad news” for customers in that they restrict easy movement to a different carrier and force the payment of expensive roaming charges by taking away the ability to switch SIM cards when consumers travel.

Network locks also restrict the used market, making it harder for consumers to resell used phones because they’ll only work on one network. These sorts of imposed restrictions are responsible, at least in part, for the diminishment of market competition, says the website.

The phone manufacturers seem to be pushing towards an “unlocked” future as well, with Apple recently telling Canadians that they could buy direct from the company without being locked into a network. Google’s Nexus One was also sold directly to consumers without a carrier contract to contend with.

If Hyer and the phone manufacturers are successful, the move towards “unlocking” cell phones will come quickly. That means good news for consumers and for the competitive markets in Canada, as it gives real choice and real freedom back to consumers and strips away the rights of corporations to callously lock customers in to a marketplace in which they lack alternatives and liberty.

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