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White House Petitions FCC To Allow Phone Unlocking
White House Petitions FCC To Allow Phone Unlocking

By Barry Levine
September 20, 2013 1:05PM

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Some carriers have raised concerns -- citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- that unlocked cell phones could carry copyright-protected software between service providers. But the movement to make unlocking legal again has received widespread support including from the White House, the FCC and Congress.
 



Unlocking a cell phone, currently illegal, may become legal again. The Obama Administration has sent a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting such an action, and there is support in Congress and at the FCC.

The petition, which came from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Commerce Department, asks the FCC to "require a provider of certain commercial mobile services, upon request, to unlock any wireless device" in order that the device owner "may use that device in conjunction with another lawfully obtained commercial mobile service."

The petition added that giving consumers greater freedom to choose among mobile service providers and use wireless devices that they acquire legally from other private owners would increase competition and "enhance consumer welfare."

In addition to the NTIA petition, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to similarly change the law about unlocking phones, and it has received support from companies in the wireless industry.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Locking phones for use with specific carriers has been employed to make movement by customers between carriers harder to do, because it meant getting a new phone as well as signing up for a new service. Unlocking involves using a program to remove software blocks preventing the device from being used on a competing service. In some cases, however, unlocking a phone does not make it completely portable between carriers because of technical incompatibilities.

In January, a federal copyright office in the Library of Congress refused to renew an exemption for cell phones in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act after the exemption expired, thus making phone unlocking illegal and subject to civil and criminal penalties. The agency said the issue was that unlocking a phone required getting around copyrighted software in order to acquire the unlocking codes, and the copyright-protected software was owned by the carriers. A petition to reinstate unlocking was filed through a White House online forum and acquired more than 114,000 signatures.

While some carriers have raised concerns that unlocked phones could carry copyright-protected software between service providers, the movement to make unlocking legal again has received widespread support.

Tip of Iceberg?

The Consumers Union, for instance, has praised the NTIA proposal, in part because it also includes the unlocking of tablets. The public interest group Public Knowledge has similarly been supportive, but has also called for a more far-reaching modernization of copyright laws. And the CTIA, a wireless industry association, has expressed support for the House bill.

In addition to giving consumers new flexibility in determining their relationships with carriers, unlocking would also give new life to the secondhand phone market. Some carriers will now unlock a phone under certain rules, such as for the original owner, but the proposed new rules would enable anyone who owns a phone to unlock it.
 

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Daniel:

Posted: 2013-09-21 @ 12:11pm PT
Free phones every two years doesn't exist. You pay for them behind the scene with by submitting yourself to costlier carrier plans. T-Mobile charges you for you phone but when it's paid off your bill goes down. Att charges more for the same phone/plan and the price will not go down after having the same phone for two years.

Anonymous:

Posted: 2013-09-21 @ 11:31am PT
Unlocking your phone is not illegal, and never has been illegal. Show me a single court case where someone has gotten into trouble for it. There are none because, as your property, unlocking your phone is a right.

Klimmer:

Posted: 2013-09-21 @ 8:21am PT
Finally, the Whitehorse and Congress agree on something that helps the consumer. However, getting a "free" phone or "discounted" phone every couple of years may become a thing of the past.

keugene:

Posted: 2013-09-20 @ 4:03pm PT
So what if they don't like it...they spend 10's of millions of dollars buying congress to get what they want....to control the market (collusion, monopoly) etc and don't give a dam about their customers.....so i say the government shouldn't peition anything... they should flex their muscles.



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