Unlocking cell phones is now illegal in the U.S., making it harder to switch carriers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Everyone likes to have options, especially when it comes to cell phones and service providers. Now though, a new federal law criminalizes a fairly common and pretty easy cell phone switch.

"It's a bit of a freedom thing and it's stopping consumers from doing what they want, but it's the law," said Mission Repair owner Ryan Arter.

He is describing new phone regulations, which kicked in Saturday, Jan. 26. The Library of Congress reached the ruling in October.

The law makes unlocking cell phones illegal. That means once a consumer buys a phone, they have to stay with the original service provider.

"Carriers want you to fulfill your contract, so they don't want you to buy a phone from them and go to another carrier," Arter said.

He said consumers can still get permission from their service provider to unlock a phone. Arter said legally-unlocked phones are also available directly from the provider, but they are more expensive.

Arter said the law will have a big impact on frequent international travelers. Helena Mulser, a Brazilian student at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, is perplexed.

"In my country every phone you buy, it has to be unlocked. It's the law," Mulser said. "We buy a phone here and we want to use it in other places too and if it's locked, it's kind of useless."

According to CNN, the new law applies only to phones purchased after January 26.

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