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A couple weeks ago President Obama signed into law a new bill that makes it legal to ‘unlock’ your cell phone. Separate from ‘jailbreaking’ your phone, which has been legal, ‘unlocking’ your phone now allows you to use your phone on another carrier’s wireless network. For instance, if you bought a phone in the course of your contract with Verizon, you can now unlock it for use with Sprint. This legislation repeals an earlier Library of Congress decision.

Following unanimous approval by Congress, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law. Prior to this new bill, unlocking your phone meant you could face legal consequences and the potential of jail time for the circumvention of a technological measure under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The new law looks to boost competition but it is not that simple or user friendly. First, wireless carriers typically work on two different systems so not all phones will work on all networks. For instance, you might be able to use a Verizon phone with Sprint but you generally can’t use an AT&T phone with Verizon outside of a few exceptions. Second, cell phone companies are not required to sell unlocked phones and are not required to unlock phones without a valid reason, but most requests are fulfilled and third-party unlocking services are available. Third, the law is only temporary. The Library of Congress reviews these laws every three years and until a permanent fix is in place there is no guarantee the current legality won’t change in 2015.

The bottom line is that unlocking your phone, while now legal, can be complicated. It is best to do a little research on compatibility and request your phone be unlocked by your carrier before attempting it yourself.

Attorney Joseph Hada handles OVI , criminal, and traffic cases as part of the defense team at The Law Offices of Saia & Piatt, Inc.