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FCC to Investigate New U.S. Phone Unlocking Rules

Fri, 03/01/2013 - 10:03am
Ben Munson

While the 112,440 signees of a petition to make unlocking phones legal again await a response from the White House, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said that he will look into the matter.

Speaking with TechCrunch, Genachowski said the ban, recently instituted by the Library of Congress, raises competition and innovation concerns.

Last year the Library of Congress released new updates to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that made it illegal to unlock purchased phones without the permission of the carrier through which the phone was bought. The major concerns addressed by the petition are that unlocked phones could lead to exorbitant roaming fees and lower resale value of devices after carrier contracts expire.

CTIA noted that the practice of unlocking phones is essential to the industry but that user unlocking had enabled “large scale phone trafficking operations” to buy, unlock and sell pre-paid handsets away from the U.S. market. CTIA also said that owners of wireless devices do not necessarily own the software on those devices.

When the ruling came down, opponents like Sherwin Siy, of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, noted the many problems such a prohibition would cause.

"It's a little ridiculous to think that copyright laws are intended to prevent people from switching between different phone providers easily," Siy wrote in a blog. "Instead of being used to reward authors and creators (it's not like the phone firmware is a big cash cow for anyone), it's being used to lock customers in to their existing providers, hurting their ability to vote with their feet and switch to a competitor."

It’s unclear yet if the FCC and Genechowski will have much power in overturning the ruling.

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