Early this year the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came into effect making it illegal to unlock a phone in the United States without the permission from the existing carrier. Since the law became effective there have been lots of petitions and even legislations for phones to be freely unlocked in the United States.
The FCC is working closely with the CTIA to come up with clear rules and guidelines on unlocking mobile devices. After more than 8 months of talks there is still no indication that progress has been made.
FCC’s new chairman Tom Wheeler wants to speed up development by writing a letter to CTIA president Steve Largent. The content of the letter basically says that if the CTIA cannot come up with a clear set of rules and guidelines on unlocking mobile devices then the FCC will be forced to take regulatory action.
The five key points of the letter that the FCC wants addressed are
- provide a clear, concise and readily accessible policy on unlocking
- unlock mobile devices for legitimate owners of those devices once their service contract has been fulfilled
- notify customers when their devices are eligible to be unlocked and/or automatically unlock those devices for free
- unlock devices or provide an explanation of a denial of any unlock requests within two days
- unlock devices for military service men and women upon deployment
Among the five key points it is only the third in which the CTIA does not agree upon. Apparently, CTIA agrees to unlock mobile devices however does not want to be compelled to tell consumers and does not want to do it for free.
Wheeler however gave an ultimatum stating that “Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate. Let’s set a goal of including the full unlocking rights policy in the CTIA Consumer Code before the December holiday season.”
In response to the letter CTIA made a statement that says “We look forward to continuing discussions under Chairman Wheeler’s leadership and to ensuring consumers continue to benefit from the world-leading range of competitive devices and offerings. Today’s US consumers have a wide variety of unlocked devices and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them. CTIA also continues to advocate for the passage of ‘The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act’ (H.R. 1123), which would address consumer confusion about unlocking as a result of the 2012 decision of the Librarian of Congress. While CTIA supports giving consumers a robust set of options, it is important for consumers to note that an unlocked phone doesn’t necessarily mean an interoperable phone, given the technological and engineering realities of wireless networks.”
Several affected groups have different opinions on this matter. Those who oppose unlocking say that phones should remain locked because of the subsidies that carriers provide consumers when the phone is bought. Others however say that consumers should be able to use their phones on any network they choose.