Remember the days when you could buy an “unlocked” smartphone? Thanks to an exemption in 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it was legal to buy and sell an “unlocked” cell phone that allowed for modifications by removing the restraints put on phones by wireless companies (and allowing buyers to take a phone from one carrier to another.) A decision late last year by the Librarian of Congress not to renew that exemption in the DCMA for phones purchased after October 26, 2012 (older phones are exempt) has raised tempers…and outrage.
The actions of the Librarian were prompted by a request from the CTIA (News - Alert), the wireless industry’s chief lobbying group, that the exemption for unlocking was no longer necessary because phones that come pre-unlocked are much more widely available than they once were.
Wireless consumer advocates aren’t buying that story. The petition website “We the People” has been used to create a petition that has been digitally signed by over 112,000 people – clearly the 100,000 mark that requires a response from the White House.
In an interview with AppleInsider, the petition’s creator, Sina Khanifar, said the decision to alter DMCA rules is overall negative for U.S. consumers.
The petition signers have received their response: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) has announced that it plans to investigate whether the ban is harmful to economic competitiveness and if the executive branch has any authority to change the law, according to an article last week in TechCrunch.
The “ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) told TechCrunch reporter Gregory Ferenstein. “It’s something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones.”
While there has been no evidence that individual users who continue to unlock cell phones have been threatened with legal actions, some phone sellers have received cease and desist orders.
Edited by Brooke Neuman