Ever feel like changing your mobile phone service? I mean, after all, it is not a radical notion…is it? That’s why after years of overpriced and technologically backward service from AT&T, you’ve decided to throw a little business to T-Mobile. What the hell.

What the hell, indeed. Turns out that your phone has to be ‘unlocked.’ Why? Did you recall ‘locking’ your phone in the first place? Precisely what it is locke in my piddly little iPhone is totally beyond me. In fact, I seemed to have purchased the thing through the most conventional channels imaginable. That is to say, my local Apple Store. Where a sales person conveniently asked if I wanted to choose a carrier. I chose AT&T, and now I wanted to unchoose them. The reasons don’t matter. Well, they do, but they shouldn’t. After all, there I was in Daly City at the only suburban mall I ever see these days…and there were Messrs. T-Mobile. And did they have a deal for me? Sort of.

That’s where I discovered that my phone was ‘locked.’ I would have to contact AT&T if I wanted it unlocked. A simple matter, contacting AT&T. On your iPhone it’s 611. You’ll get a perfectly pleasant and utterly chatty constituent who will tell you absolutely anything…except how to unlock your phone. No, it’s worse. They will tell you how to unlock your phone…even though they don’t know. They don’t even know that they don’t know. I went through this twice. You enter a bunch of obscure and nonsensical technical information…like your IMEI number, whatever that is, press ‘enter.’ And that should be that. Oh, you do have to wait two business days while AT&T determines whether they are, or are not, going to unlock your phone. But no biggie, right? You expect, even demand, a favorable outcome. After all, you are eminently deserving, a regular donor some of the finest causes. Although one of these happens to not be net neutrality.

Let’s digress. What is net neutrality and why should anyone care? Well, first off, no one will care if they keep calling it ‘net neutrality,’ instead of something more sensible like ‘internet access.’ But, okay, neutrality will do. And what’s neutral? Well, the Internet, of course. It’s as neutral as your electric utility is neutral. Pay your bill and you’ve got power, right? Not just power because you’re a good lad who lives in the right part of town. A utility customer. Who, by the way, expects electricity to be of the 60 cycle variety, alternating current, thank you very much.

AT&T has lobbied hard for the right to maintain its monopoly in one city after the next…but provide whatever Internet speed it wants to. No wonder the US is behind Bulgaria in cell phone technology…that is, slower speeds and less capacity. As for the actual Internet, Alcatel, a private French carrier, offers Internet speeds 50 times faster than anything available on my street in San Francisco. Oh, and they’re considerably cheaper.

So will AT&T unlock the magic door? No, it turns out. And after repeated entreaties, it develops that they won’t, because they can’t. I bought the phone from Apple, and AT&T can only unlock phones it sells itself. So I went on the Apple website, learned how to unlock my own phone…and after another week of unwanted cellular service from AT&T, I was a free man. Though nothing is really free is it? Stay tuned.

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