Incoming FCC Chair Calls For End To Ban On Unlocking Cell Phones

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

Earlier this year, an ill-advised ruling by the Librarian of Congress made it illegal for cellphone owners to unlock their new wireless devices — thus allowing the phones to be used on compatible networks — without permission from their current carriers. Recently exited FCC Chair Julius Genachowski had expressed concerns over this new rule, but he’s gone back to the private sector. Luckily, his apparent successor also wants consumers to be able to do what they want with the devices they buy.

President Obama has nominated former wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler to fill the FCC’s top spot, and yesterday Wheeler appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss the gig.

When asked what he thinks of the Librarian of Congress’ belief that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives wireless carriers the ultimate authority in deciding how phones are used — even after the device has been fully paid for and the customer is out of contract — Wheeler responded, “Who knew the Library of Congress had this far of a reach?… I am a strong supporter of intellectual property rights. At the same point in time, I believe that when I as a consumer or you as a consumer, or anyone have fulfilled our commitment and we’ve paid off our contract, that we ought to have the right to use that device and move it across carriers as we see fit. I look forward to working on this issue and resolving this issue to give consumers flexibility.”

As for how such a ban could be overturned, Wheeler is in the same boat as his predecessor, as it’s the Librarian of Congress who has the sole discretion of interpreting and reinterpreting what the DMCA means and intends.

“I don’t know whether it [should be] a permanent exemption [to the DMCA], whether it is a rewrite of the Copyright Act, or what the appropriate solution is,” testified Wheeler, “but I do believe there needs to be a solution and consumers should have the right to unlock their phones after they’ve lived up to their side of the agreement.”

Wheeler is not alone in his view on the unlocking ban. Members of Congress have introduced legislation intended to overturn the LOC’s ruling; the White House says it agrees with the 100,000+ citizens who signed a petition asking for the ban to be overturned; and advocacy groups like our own Consumers Union have called on lawmakers to please have some darn sense and get rid of this anti-consumer ban.

FCC’s new chairman wants to end ban on cell phone unlocking [ArsTechnica]