updated 06:20 pm EST, Tue February 26, 2008
Law could unlock iPhone
A new draft law in the U.S. sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would require every mobile provider to offer subsidy-free wireless customer equipment, effectively breaking the exclusive deal between Apple and AT&T over the popular iPhone and allowing all owners of that device to subscribe to a wireless carrier of their choice. A hearing is scheduled on the draft bill for tomorrow morning, and a lobbyist for CTIA-The Wireless Association representing the major wireless carriers is already scheduled to speak about the bill.
The bill, titled 'Wireless Consumer Protection and Community Broadband Empowerment Act,' would establish new rules for wireless carriers that include offering unsubsidized service as well as clearly disclosing rate plans to customers in a "clear, plain, and conspicuous manner," according to News.com.
Under the draft law carriers would be obligated to provide more detailed maps of their network coverage areas, and would be forced to allow customers to cancel contracts for any reason without penalty within the first 30 days as well as prorate any fees associated with leaving a contract early. Wireless carriers argue that early termination fees help cover the cost of subsidized cellphones that come as part of various plans, and customers currently looking to purchase an iPhone are required to sign up for a 2-year service contract with AT&T in order to use the cellular handset in addition to paying the purchase price of the device.
A sizable portion of iPhone purchases are also estimated to wind up in the hands of 'unlockers,' or users who purchased the device without intending to sign up for an AT&T service plan but instead use software hacks to 'unlock' the phone for use with a carrier of their choosing. Apple has fought a constant battle since it began shipping the iPhone in late June, releasing software updates that routinely break various hacks released to unlock its handset for use with non-AT&T providers.