White House asks FCC to make cellphone unlocking legal

Sept. 20, 2013 at 3:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- The Obama administration has filed a formal request with the U.S. communications watchdog to require wireless carriers to unlock mobile devices upon request.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration proposal, filed Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission, follows administration support for an Internet petition in the spring asking the Library of Congress to change its stance on the legality of smartphone unlocking, CNET News reported.

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Americans generally are prohibited from working around technologies protecting copyrighted works. However, the Library of Congress is exempt and has authority to grant exemptions, which it did for cellphone unlocking utilities in 2006 and 2010.

The process became illegal this year when the Library of Congress, which reviews the Act every three years, decided not to renew the exemption for unlocking phones, CNET said. The decision not to renew prevents cellphones bought through one carrier from being used on other carrier networks.

An online petition collected about 114,322 signatures picking up Obama's support in March.

"Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle," Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary of the NTIA, said in a statement.

CNET said before resigning this year, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission would look into the issue to see whether the panel should enable consumers to use unlocked phones, noting that a ban on unlocking "raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns."

Tom Wheeler, Obama's nominee to succeed Genachowski, said during a nomination hearing in June he backs ending the ban.

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