Today is the day when unlocking your cell phone without carrier consent becomes illegal, according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and a January 26, 2013 news article by by Cory Gunther, "PSA: Unlocking your phone is illegal starting today." Also see today's news article, "Unlocking Your Cell Phone Could Be Illegal." What the new law refers to is that when you buy a "carrier locked" smart phone/cell phone, it's usable by only one carrier. That refers just to the carrier from whom you bought the cell phone service. If you unlock your cell phone without permission, your carrier has the right to turn you in.
You also could buy a phone that clearly states it's unlocked. Some people purchase various types of software online or make changes, edits, and tweaks to the software in the phone to unlock cell phones that come already locked. The changing of the software in the phone now is illegal. You can't unlock your cell phone. And getting the carrier's permission in writing is very difficult due to the new law and also the copyright. You can refer to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Locked cell phones direct you to use the same carrier
As of today, it is now illegal to use software or various tweaks and edits to unlock a locked cell phone--unless you have permission from the carrier to do so. If so, get it in writing, of course -- so you can prove you have permission to unlock your cell phone. If you bought your cell phone online as a used phone or plan to use T-Mobile, there are ways to unlock the used cell phone. But it's now illegal to do that without consent from the carrier.
For example with T-Mobile cell phones, the company doesn’t offer the iPhone. If you purchased various brands or types of GSM Android smart phones such as the Galaxy Nexus, it's not Verizon’s phone. Also the phones on AT&T and T-Mobile work together in various aspects. People were in the recent past unlocking the HTC One S phone and then using it on AT&T phones with 3G HSPA+. All this tweaking without the carrier's consent now is illegal, according to today's news article by by Cory Gunther, "PSA: Unlocking your phone is illegal starting today."
The law is in effect as of January 26, 2013, and you need to obey it. If you want change, your recourse, collect signatures on petitions. Then see who is listening. Some cell phones still have slots for pre-paid SIM cards that are used for calling. But it's still difficult to find smart phones that have pre-paid SIM cards as most have a carrier two-year or other type of contract.
There are basic cell phones that only do calls and texting and are not "smart phones." The basic phones don't have cameras and Internet connectivity. Those basic phones do use pre-paid SIM cards. Usually for $100, you can buy a year's worth of calls where you pay ten cents a minute, such as the AT&T Go Phone or basic cell phones from Samsung.
What the Digital Millenium Copyright Act reminds us about locked phones
What the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - US Copyright Office states is that it's illegal to unlock cell phones without exclusive carrier support and consent. Most likely, you won't be able to easily motivate a carrier to unlock your cell phone.
You could buy a pre-paid SIM card when you travel abroad, but it may be difficult to get the carrier to allow you to do this. If you do find a way through edits to unlock your smart phone, your carrier may turn you in because what you did is illegal.
According to Wikipedia's Digital Millennium Act website, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works.
The ACT criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Passed on October 12, 1998, by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users.
The DMCA's principal innovation in the field of copyright, the exemption from direct and indirect liability of internet service providers and other intermediaries, was adopted by the European Union in the Electronic Commerce Directive 2000. The Copyright Directive 2001 implemented the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty in the EU.