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Five months ago, the United States’ head librarian decided that Americans no longer needed the right to unlock their cell phones, and the land of the free and the home of the brave saw carrier freedom recede unhappily over the horizon.
Which should teach us all a thing or two about poking fun at librarians.
But apparently Americans, who have pursued freedom via the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box, aren’t taking that decision lying down. Even when it comes from the Librarian of Congress.
In fact, there’s evidence that phone unlocking is now more popular than ever.
“We have actually seen a rise in the quantity of phones unlocked by US customers,” Darren Kingman of Mobile Unlocked, a UK site for unlocking your phone remotely, says. “In fact sales have increased by 71 percent.”
Consumers come to Mobile Unlocked’s site, tell the company which phone they have and which carrier they use, and after placing an order, receive an unlock code that allows them to use their phone with any carrier, not just the one they purchased their phone through.
Just the company’s American traffic is up, and Mobile Unlocked hasn’t actually been promoting its service to Americans, Kingman said.
“US traffic was just eight percent of our site,” Kingman told me. “The other 80-90 percent has not seen a similar jump.”
That correlates fairly well with Google search trends, which show continued high and perhaps even increasing consumer interest in unlocking phones. For instance, while Google searches on “unlock a phone” rose to new highs when the U.S. Library of Congress decision happened in late January, recent interest has been even greater.
At that time, James Billington and a Library of Congress committee stopped offering an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for unlocking, saying that consumers have enough choice already if they purchase unlocked phones, rather than getting their phone for a free or reduced rate as part of a carrier contract.
For his part, Kingman is baffled as to why a librarian would be able to change U.S. law, or why unlocking would be illegal in the U.S. in the first place.
“I don’t really understand the logic behind it,” he said. “Unlocking is completely legal in pretty much every other country at the minute, except for the U.S.”
The White House agrees with Kingman and agreed with the Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal petition on WhiteHouse.gov. But legislation to make that real — the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act — just passed through the House judiciary committee earlier this month and is still likely months away from completion.