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FCC Will Investigate U.S. Mobile Phone Unlocking Ban

iphone_5_black_whiteCell phone unlocking in the United States became illegal in late January for new devices, prompting a White House petition urging the government to look into the issue.

The petition on the WeThePeople platform successfully garnered the 100,000 signatures necessary for an official White House response, and the backlash over the ban also caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told TechCrunch that the FCC will investigate to determine whether or not the ban results in harmful effects for consumers. The “ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns,” he said.
Genachowski isn't sure what authority he has, but if he finds any, given the tone of the conversation, it's likely he will exert his influence to reverse the decision. "It's something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones."
At this time it is illegal to unlock newly purchased cellular phones in the United States without express carrier permission. Devices purchased prior to January 26, 2013 may be unlocked and unlocked devices can be purchased at unsubsidized prices from cell phone carriers.

Top Rated Comments

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20 months ago
Of course it harms competition. That's exactly why carriers do it.
Rating: 12 Votes
20 months ago
And some said that online petitions do not work!
Rating: 8 Votes
20 months ago

Good, and after they unban this focus on more important issues. Priorities, government. Learn them.


Like what? This is what the FCC is for. Believe it or not, not everyone in government all works on everything. This guy doesn't discuss cell phone plans 1 week and go fight in Afghanistan the next.
Rating: 6 Votes
20 months ago
Investigate away! I'm glad the petition got the sigs it needed.
Rating: 5 Votes
20 months ago
In that cases, don't locks in general raise concerns about competition?

Exactly what purpose does a lock serve? It prevents you from using your phone as you choose and nothing else. It doesn't lock you into your contract. Your contract does that.

I see locks as this:
1) Restraint of trade. A lock is explicitly intended to prevent you from using your phone with another carrier. But why is this allowed? The phone is your property. You received a discount for which you agreed to enter into a lucrative, expensive contract. The lock goes above and beyond that and says ANY usage on the phone must go through your carrier. That is restraint of trade and interference
2) Racketeering. A racket is creating a problem and then charging money to solve that problem (I'll break you legs but won't if you pay me). A locked phone means you have no choice but to roam when traveling if you want to use your own phone. That's a problem. Solution: pay your carrier their prepaid roaming packages rates.

So what new competitive problems come up by banning unlocks that don't already exist simply by allowing locks?
Rating: 5 Votes
20 months ago
Perfect example of when too much government regulations can hurt the people they're there to serve.
Rating: 4 Votes
20 months ago

And some said that online petitions do not work!


Online petitions that can be completely ignored do not generally work. Online petitions that have to be view and addressed work. The two are not even remotely the same.
Rating: 4 Votes
20 months ago

Perfect example of when too much government regulations can hurt the people they're there to serve.


Given it's the DMCA that causes the issue, it's the DMCA that should be repealed. Good luck with that, though. Corporations lobbied HARD for it and as we all well know, the rights of the corporations outweigh the needs of the many.
Rating: 4 Votes
20 months ago

And some said that online petitions do not work!


Seriously. This whole White House petition thing is giving me this strange feeling I've never had before. One where people may actually have a little bit of say nowadays.
Rating: 3 Votes
20 months ago
I do a fair amount of work in this area of the tech industry and a lot of people aren't aware of what exactly led to this "new" ban. Here's what happened:

The unlocking provision in place until January was an exemption to the DMCA that wasn't renewed. The FCC has no authority to change this.

Congress enacted the DMCA, a copyright law, administered by the Commissioner of Copyrights at the Library of Congress. The DMCA requires the Commissioner to hold hearings on a list of approved exemptions to DMCA §1201's anti circumvention rules (think anti DRM removal) every three years.

This last round the exemption was narrowed to apply to legacy (pre-Januray 31, 2013) phones only. There were good arguments for both sides, but since the standard is harm to users/consumers the cell phone industry group won out by saying that people can buy a wide variety of unlocked phones or ask for an unlock if their phone was subsidized and is now out of contract. You can read the whole thing for yourselves here: http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2012/77fr65260.pdf

An interesting end run tactic for the FCC would be to make a new rule saying that carriers would have to provide unlock codes as soon as a subsidy is paid back instead of at the end of the contract. I won't hold my breath.
Rating: 3 Votes

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