Locking cell phones is so unpopular a concept that it accomplished the seemingly impossible—it managed to get the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to reach a unanimous agreement when they decided to overturn it. We told you about that last week, but today President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law. So go on. Provided your initial contract has expired, unlock that iPhone.
The act first saw life in 2013 as a "We the People" petition that generated more than 100,000 signatures from citizens in favor of making cellphone unlocking legal again. Wireless customers previously had been able to unlock their phones to change providers or install foreign SIM cards for overseas travel under an exception in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but the exception's expiration in 2013 rendered unlocking illegal.
Again, you need to make sure you're no longer under any contractual obligations with your provider when you unlock it. If you are, however, you can switch services without begging your provider for permission, and even more notably, you're free to ask for assistance in doing so from your local tech shop.
"The most important part of this joint effort is that it will have a real impact," said Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy in a White House blog post. "As long as their phone is compatible and they have complied with their contracts, consumers will now be able to enjoy the freedom of taking their mobile service — and a phone they already own — to the carrier that best fits their needs. At a time when partisan gridlock all too often threatens progress on everyday issues that matter to consumers, working together we listened to your voices, and the American people benefited as a result."