The Government Wants You To Unlock Your Phone

The Government Wants You To Unlock Your Phone

A few months back, we told you that Obama had paid lip service to a petition about being able to legally unlock your phone, but that nothing was going to happen from the sound of things. Apparently, we misheard the sound of things, because the White House is actually pushing the FCC to do something.
Specifically, the White House has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to make phone unlocking at any time completely legal. It’s currently illegal because of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Explaining why would take forever, and not even the government can offer a good reason.
Will the FCC do it? Considering who’s running the joint, odds look pretty good:
Before resigning earlier this year, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission would examine the issue “to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones,” adding that a ban on unlocking “raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns.” Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Genachowski, said during a nomination hearing in June that he supported lifting the ban.
Needless to say, there’s the usual mindless panic among people who insist that this will bring to an end to subsidized phones. Which it won’t, because most of those subsidized phones are tied to a contract anyway, and it makes far more sense to buy the unlocked version of a phone than eat an early termination fee. Now, contracts themselves are increasingly an endangered species, but that’s due to market forces and phone hardware update cycles, not government intervention.
Unlocking phones means we can get more use out of them, and that we can choose more easily what network we use when communicating. The White House views it as giving consumers the tools to vote with their wallets, and really, that’s what it is, in the end. Besides, considering how many phone ads we see now, it’s not like wireless carriers will have to shell out more for marketing.
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