Obama and FCC Urge Congress to Rethink Unlocking Ban

Cellular consumers were dealt a blow early this year when laws against cellphone unlocking went into effect. As of January 26, it became illegal for users to unlock their phones, which allows the device to be used abroad or brought to a different carrier, even if the two-year cellular contract has expired. But these restrictions may not last long, as the the Obama Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are urging Congress to reexamine the previous ruling.

Unlocking phones is often confused with jailbreaking and rooting, a process that remains legal in the United States, protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Jailbreaking allows users to install unauthorized applications and can void the smartphone’s warranty, while unlocking is often done by individual carriers and allows the phone to work with multiple SIM Cards, supporting international use with various carriers.

Cellular carriers will still unlock users’ phones at their request, providing that the phone contract is no longer in effect. The new regulations restrict users from unlocking their phone without the assistance of individual carriers.

R. David Edelman, in an official response to a White House petition against these regulations, called this an “urgent issue” and expressed that the White House is looking forward to continuing its work with Congress on the issue. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski also sided with consumers regarding this petition, questioning the ruling passed by the Library of Congress.

“This raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn’t pass the common sense test,” said Genachowski. “The FCC is examining the issue . . . I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.”

Dann Berg
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