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

Law took effect Jan. 26

Unlocked cell phones offer consumers more options, especially when it comes to mobile devices and service providers, but a new federal law criminalizes the fairly-common cell phone trick.

In October, The Library of Congress reached a ruling that made unlocking cell phones illegal. The new law kicked in on Jan. 26.

Now, once a consumer buys a phone, they have to stay with the original service provider.

"It's a bit of a freedom thing and it's stopping consumers from doing what they want, but it's the law," said tech expert Ryan Arter. "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 consumers can still get permission from their service provider to unlock a phone and legally-unlocked phones are available directly from the provider, but they are more expensive.

The law could have a big impact on frequent international travelers. 

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

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