Americans can unlock their handsets from the services of the carrier that sold it to them, but the procedure can be a headache. The fact that consumers can unlock them free of charge came about in 2015, when carriers were told to give customers a “penalty-free” way to unlock them under the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. The Act allows “circumvention (unlocking) to be initiated by the owner” but only “when such connection is authorized by the operator of such network” — after their service contracts expire. Public Knowledge added that the practice of locking phones disadvantages low-income customers and places a “burden on smaller carriers, new entrants, and MVNOs in particular… due to a lack of handset availability,” compounded “by the competitive disadvantages caused by agreements between the handset manufacturers and the larger service provides like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which smaller carriers may not be able to negotiate.”
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