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NTIA Petitions FCC to Allow Device Unlocking

Wed, 09/18/2013 - 9:58am
Andrew Berg

In the ongoing battle over the regulation of cellphone unlocking, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) yesterday petitioned the FCC to require wireless carriers to unlock mobile phones, tablets and other device for use with other carriers upon request. 

The NTIA's petition cited the need for greater competition in the U.S. marketplace for wireless services. 

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling, said in a statement that Americans should be able to use their mobile devices "on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle." 

The petition requests that the FCC immediately initiate the process of setting rules that would allow users to have their devices unlocked. The NTIA is proposing a rule that would shift the burden associated with device unlocking onto the carriers that imposed the locks, and ensure they consistently do so in a way that is both expeditious and transparent. The rule stipulates that removing a lock on a mobile device would not affect any service agreement or contract the consumer has with a mobile provider.

The NTIA petition follows on a number of policy moves in Washington earlier this year that focused on rules surrounding cell phone unlocking. In March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a bill to allow consumers to unlock their phones for “interoperability purposes.”

The Wireless Device Independence Act proposed to amend current law to allow carrier unlocking. 

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress late last year did away with an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed consumers to unlock new mobile phones without carrier permission. 

Later the White House has backed the push to allow consumers the right to have their cell phones unlocked. After more than 114,000 people signed a petition asking the White House to reverse the decision by the Library of Congress to criminalize the unlocking of cellular phones, the office of President Obama responded in support of legalizing the practice.

“It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs,” the White House said in today’s statement. The statement added that it should also be legal to unlock tablets.

CTIA's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said in a statement yesterday said taht it was important to educate policymakers and consumers about the numerous unlocking policy options when considering wireless providers or service plans, as well as the technological realities that exist among different phones and different carriers.  

“Given the plethora of choices in the marketplace – more than 240 unlocked devices are available for purchase from a wireless carrier, retail store or directly from the manufacturer – consumers continue to benefit from the competitive market for mobile services," Bergman said, adding that CTIA supports legislation being advanced by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. That legislation aims to "eliminate confusion or uncertainty from the 2012 decision of the Librarian of Congress and to prevent the bulk unlocking of handsets and arbitrage of the handset subsidy system, which can harm consumers and facilitate the sale of stolen smartphones.”

The Library of Congress has consistently argued that its decision to criminalize unauthorized unlocking is part of an attempt to stem the sale of stolen devices.

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