The issue of phone unlocking has become the cause célèbre of Washington lately. The White House has gotten behind a consumer petition to overturn the recent ban on the practice. Not one, but three bills are wending their way through Congress that would make it legal for us to remove the network locks on our handsets once our contracts expire.
All of that legislation and bluster, however, isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem that produced the practice of locking devices in the first place: handset subsidies.
There’s a reason why carriers lock phones. They’re heavily discounting the cost of most devices, which is why you can get a $500 smartphone for $100 and many mid-range and low-end handsets for free. Carriers make their money back through monthly subscription fees that factor in those subsidy costs. For carriers to get the full value of the phone back, subscribers need to finish out their contracts, and locking devices to their networks functions as their insurance policy. It’s a hell of lot easier than repossessing phones.
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