It was a big deal when cell phone users were told they could keep their phone number even if they switched carriers.
Now, the White House and FCC want to take the next step. That is, allowing people to keep the actual cell phone even when they switch carriers.
The Obama administration and the FCC announced they will urge Congress to overturn a ruling last year by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress that made it illegal for consumers to unlock their cell phones. Right now, a cell phone that you buy through a two-year contract would be useless if you switched carriers because the software only works with the carrier you first signed up for.
Most consumers probably aren't aware there's a process allowing them to keep their current phone when they switch from one carrier to another, but only after they have satisfied their initial service contract. Wireless companies say they aren't too sure what all the fuss is about.
"We'll unlock your device if you've fulfilled the terms of your service agreement," AT&T said in a statement Monday. "And, if you bring an unlocked device that will work on our network, we'll sell you a SIM card and service."
This all came out of a White House petition that reached over 100,000 signatures, which forced the administration to comment on the issue. They said this should also apply to your tablet, not just your phone.
"In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones," a White House statement said. "And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense."
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is introducing legislation this week to allow cell phone unlocking and made the following statement Tuesday:
"Consumers should be free to choose the phone and service that best fits their needs and their budgets. We need to make sure consumers are getting a fair deal and today's announcement is a welcome step towards implementing consumer-friendly policies in the wireless industry," Klobuchar said. "That's why I'm introducing legislation this week to get rid of the ban on unlocking cell phones and I will continue to work to advance commonsense measures to protect consumers and promote competition."