Two weeks ago, a petition asking the White House to act on a recent Library of Congress decision that restricted consumer use of cell phones reached the required threshold for a response. The administration replied today by agreeing that it’s time to legalize cell phone unlocking:
The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.
This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs — even if it isn’t the one on which the device was first activated. All consumers deserve that flexibility.
Cell phone unlocking — allowing consumers control over the phone they paid for, like the ability to switch carriers but use the same device, or swap out their SIM card to avoid excessive roaming charges overseas — is prohibited under a provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) that covers digital locks. The Library of Congress had previously issued exceptions to the provision in 2006 and 2010, but denied an renewal of the exception in fall of 2012.
While the White House cannot reverse the decision due a jurisdictional dispute outlined in the Library of Congress’ response to the White House statement, the White House endorsed a range of options to change the status quo, including “narrow legislative fixes” and examination of the issue by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also issued a statement today confirming they are looking into the issue because “it doesn’t pass the common sense test” among other reasons.