December 12 2012 by Ellen Roseman
It pays to ask up front if a mobile device can be unlocked, as my column says today. Many people find they can’t get their phones unlocked when they try to do so later.
I’m posting stories below about readers’ difficulties in asking their carriers about unlocking. Some are quite funny in relating the hassles they encountered along the way.
Is it an abuse to have phones locked to a carrier’s network? Some people say Canadians have the most expensive wireless networks in the world and pay the highest fees for international data roaming.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre wants to shrink our inflated data roaming rates. Here’s one way to do it:
Canadian wireless providers should be required to implement a monthly bill limit for data roaming to safeguard consumers against bill shock. The monthly limit would be chosen by the subscriber or default to $50, in addition to the subscriberâ€™s monthly fees.
In addition, wireless providers should temporarily suspend data service when the subscriber incurs roaming fees exceeding this limit.
The three-year contract attracted the most complaints in the CRTC discussions. And as many readers point out, unlocking a phone doesn’t help much when you’re still locked into a long-term commitment with your carrier.
Law professor and Star columnist Michael Geist makes this point clearly in a 2010 entry:
The issue of locked cellphones has long been a source of consumer fear and frustration, since some wondered whether unlocking phones that were rendered unusable when switching wireless providers was legal. In certain respects, this was an odd question to even have to ask.
No one would ever question whether consumers have the right to tinker with their car or to use the same television if they switch providers from cable to satellite, yet the wireless industry somehow convinced the public that unlocking their phones – consumers’ own property – was wrong.
Finally, blogger Darryl Moore argues that preventing carriers from locking phones is the first step. We also have to talk about the way that smart phone manfacturers stop you from “jailbreaking” in order to run different software.
Not only do we need laws prohibiting the locking of cell phones to specific cellular networks. We need laws prohibiting the locking of cell phones to specific manufacturers, allowing them to decide what software will run on your phone or not.
Indeed without this prohibition, the first one is sort of useless, as there is nothing stopping the manufacturers from acting like a proxy for the network providers and imposing the same or similar restrictions on your phone that the network providers no longer can.