Stopping Cingular from Locking

About a year ago I went to pick out a new mobile phone. I had been rocking the camera-less phone with the black and white screen for much too long, so my mobile phone provider (Cingular [The New AT&T {The same old scams}]) all but begged me to upgrade so they could make profit on all of the ancillary services such as photo texting, and ringtone purchases, and other revenue streams that an upgraded phone would make possible.

The only things that I really wanted were a camera and tri-band compatibility so that I could use it when I went abroad. I settled on the Nokia 6102i.

Fast-forward to May of 2007 and I am getting ready to move to India. I visit a Cingular store, and they inform me that I should be able to pop out my sim card and just put in a local sim card from India and off I go. (We’ll see if that actually works. Somehow, I highly doubt it).

There is just one catch. I have to ‘unlock’ the phone first. It seems that mobile phone service providers in the U.S. lock mobile handsets so you can only use their service. Even though phones can be used abroad on other frequencies phones that have a digital lock on them would make such use impossible. I assumed that this absurd feature lock was put on the phones so that people who traveled abroad for only short stays would just use the phone and pay the high roaming charges.

Actually, I realized that the locking of the phone had nothing to do with internationl users, but was implimented so that domestic users had to stay with a particular service providers. The lock made it more difficult for a customer to switch companies. With the lock in place mobile service providers could provide phones at way below cost by requiring customers into year long contracts with very strict terms.

I called Cingular today and after the usual automated phone service and annoying muzak/adverts I was finally able to apply to get the code to unlock my phone, but told it will take 5 business days to process.

The only reason I was even able to unlock the phone was because in November 2006 the U.S. Copyright Office issued a ruling that states cell phone owners are allowed to break their software locks on their devices, if they own them.

All of these shenanigans stem from the ill conceived 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). DRM is bad enough but wait until we enter the brave new world of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). “I am sorry sir, I would love to provide that cure for you but it is currently locked under your health service plan. Can I interest you in switching to Verizon/BlueCross? You will have to pay the rest of your 1.5 year contract for Cingular/Aetna, but then again you will be dead if you don’t purchase this cure in the next month.”