TechCrunch is reporting that Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski will look into the newly enacted ban on unlocking cell phones, meaning that they can’t use the phone they purchased on a different carrier. For example, it’s now illegal for a customer to personally unlock their AT&T phone and use it on T-Mobile’s network.
Genachowski attended a TechCrunch event last night and, when asked about the ban by reporter Gregory Ferenstein, told him, “[The] ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns.” The chairman added, “It’s something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones.”
If the FCC doesn’t have control over your phone carrier, who does? Oddly enough, the Librarian of Congress, whose job it is to issue exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998. For the past six years, an exception has been issued for unlocking cell phones. The exception was not re-issued last October and, as of January 26, 2013, it became illegal to unlock your cellphone for use on another carrier, no matter where that other carrier is located.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us, either, but the thought behind it is that unlocking a phone violates the original carrier’s copyright to the technology. Keep in mind that when the DCMA was passed in 1998, technology was nowhere near as portable and ubiquitous as it is now and this is a pretty broad interpretation that seems to benefit carriers over the customers who buy phones for their personal use.
The White House has already received a petition with over 100,000 signatures on it, which crosses the threshold for eliciting a response. Between the petition and this new statement from the chairman of the FCC, hopefully this unlocking issue will be resolved sooner rather than later.