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If you complete a contract and now own your cell phone outright, your U.S. wireless carrier must ­unlock the phone from their network at your request as of February 11, 2015.  The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (P.L. 113-144) repeals and replaces Library of Congress rules made under 17 USC 1201 that made unlocking wireless devices a violation of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Federal Communications Commission explains the details to cell phone owners about their right to change wireless carrier.  The Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association, to which major U.S. wireless carriers belong, has voluntarily promulgated unlock policies which are now in force.

The changes mean that phone owners have the right change carriers after unlocking, but may not be able to if their phone is incompatible with another carrier’s technology.  Unlocking a phone for international use has often been a problem for travelers. Again, even though you can unlock your phone, it may not work with an international carrier or SIM card due to the very different platforms used in most other parts of the world.  Many phone owners cannot wait to upgrade to newer model phones as soon as their contract is up, but some may also be interested in getting their older model unlocked to use as a back up or to donate it to a charitable organization.

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