Commerce Dept. Asks FCC To Require Wireless Companies To Unlock Cellphones

A year ago, the Librarian of Congress decided that consumers no longer own their cellphones, and that they can not legally unlock that phone to take to another, compatible wireless carrier, without the permission of their current service provider. Because this is idiotic, everyone from consumer advocates to the FCC to members of Congress to the White House has called for this rule change to be reversed. Now another important governmental group has piped in, calling for a rule change that could undo some of the damage done.

Yesterday, the U.S. Commerce Dept.’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a formal petition to the FCC, asking that the agency require wireless carriers to unlock all wireless devices for use with other carriers upon request.

“Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling.

This requirement would not reverse the Librarian of Congress’s recent, anticonsumer interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as it would still be against the law to unlock your own phone without permission, but it would at least insure that consumers can get their phones unlocked with minimal hassle or confusion.

“The proposed rule would shift the burden associated with device unlocking onto the carriers that imposed the locks, and ensure they consistently do so in a way that is both expeditious and transparent,” writes the NTIA in a statement. “Removing a lock on a mobile device, however, would not affect any service agreement or contract the consumer has with a mobile provider.”