White House and F.C.C. want unlocking cellphones to be legal in the US, throw the ball in Congress’s court

unlockpetition

Remember that petition that asked the White House to make unlocking cellphones legal? You know, the one that more than 100,000 Americans signed? The White House has issued their official response — they not only agree, they’re not alone.

The official response from the White House states that they agree “with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties.” They even believe it should be the same for tablets, which they think are growing increasingly similar to phones (cause phones are getting huge that’s why).

The White House is not alone in this sentiment, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also released a statement wherein FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says that the ban on unlocking phones doesn’t make any sense for consumers. Here’s the full statement:

The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress recently reversed its longstanding position and stated it is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for consumers to unlock new mobile phones, even those outside of contract periods, without their wireless providers’ permission, and that consumers are subject to criminal penalties if they do.

From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn’t pass the common sense test. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers’ ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.

With the backing of both the White House and the FCC, it sounds like we can almost guarantee that the ban would be lifted in the future. But the Library of Congress has responded by issuing their own statement, and from the looks of it, things aren’t going to be that simple. While they acknowledge that rule would benefit from review, they also state that there other implications besides telecommunications policy and the competitiveness of the wireless market, and that the rule has since served those purposes.

One way to leapfrog the issue of interpretation by the Library of Congress is, as the White House suggests, new laws vis-a-vis Congress:

The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.

Is it going to happen? Who knows. Still, today can be considered a victory for the many that believe that unlocking your cellphone should be legal for many reasons. But the fight’s just not over yet.

[via The White House, NYT, The Verge]

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12 comments

  1. Kelltic

    You can petition. You can write letters. You can phone your congressman. You can protest. You can stand across the street from the White House holding up your signs.

    You will receive this for your effort: “Thank you for your input. We will take this matter into consideration. Rest assured, you have our word on it.

    Feeling like you’ve accomplished something, you take down your sign, put away pen and paper, and go about your business.

    Everybody is happy. Government does what they darn-it all please.

    Government has been operating that way for decades.

  2. Donna

    My thought was that if you bought your phone you own the phone. If they want to lock the phones that “rent” them. That is what the cable companies do. I mean like geez. Why do they have the right to tell us what we can do with what we own. If my contract runs out I want the right to switch to another company, and not have to buy a new phone!

  3. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@newJason] Who said anything about the majority? Fact is, the *majority* of Americans either don’t know or don’t care. However, if more than 100,000 people decided to sign an online petition about it, that means there is at least some Americans that feel strongly about it.

    [@kevbo] You are welcome!

  4. kevbo

    [@Ashraf] Well Mr. Boss-man, you speak like a young’un, whose optimistic view still sees the glass as half full, while this cynical old pessimist sees it half empty. Thanks though, for considering my opinion, you are a true gentleman.

  5. newJason

    What mystifies me is how do we figure that a few over 100,000 people are anywhere close to a majority of the american people? Has our country shrunk that considerably since the recession began?

  6. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@kevbo] From the petition:

    >>The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.

    That, in my opinion, is Washington speak for we will fight for something. However, I have modified the title.

  7. Seamus McSeamus

    [@kevbo]

    Exactly, this is government speak meant to placate the signers of the petition. You know what a good way is to stop silly laws like this? Stick to the Constitution and only allow Congress to make laws!

  8. kevbo

    Enrique, at best your title for the article is very misleading and at worst completely inaccurate. Unless I am mistaken, nowhere have I have found a statement by the FCC or White House stating they will “fight to make it happen”. They have done their best to issue a statement that lacks any concrete action and avoids pissing anyone off: typical Washington speak. If I had to make a prediction based on their lukewarm reaction to this petition, no significant action at all will be taken by this administration.