White House Opposes Restrictions on Unlocking Cellphones

Article excerpt

The White House and the Federal Communications Commission have joined opponents criticizing the Library of Congress' new provisions against unlocking cellphones.

Under current law, consumers cannot take phones they have purchased from one network and use them when they sign with another, even after their previous contracts have expired. They also have to pay roaming fees when abroad, as they cannot insert a local SIM card to a locked phone.

The White House issued a statement Monday in support of laws that change the Library of Congress' restrictions on unlocking cellphones under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

R. David Edelman, senior advisor for Internet, Innovation & Privacy, released a statement on behalf of the White House supporting a petition proposing that consumers should be able to unlock their cellphones, tablets, and other devices without criminal or other penalties.

Its 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, the statement reads.

The Library of Congress established federal copyright penalties for unlocking a cellphone, which kicked in on Jan. 26. Criminal penalties include a $500,000 fine and/or five years in prison for the first offense. Wireless carriers can collect statutory civil damages ranging from $200 and $2,500 per violation.

More than 114,000 people signed a petition asking the Library of Congress to rescind the new DMCA provisions, which kicked in on Jan. 26. Cellphones were previously exempted from DMCA regulations.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also expressed concerns about the DMCA rules about unlocking cellphones.

"From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test, Mr. Genachowski says in a statement. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones.

The White Houses statement notes the Library of Congress agrees that the issue has implications for telecommunications policy and would benefit from review.

The Obama administration would support narrow legislative fixes to ensure that neither criminal law nor technological locks prevent consumers from switching carriers after they complete a service agreement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the White Houses stance: Your rights to reuse, resell, or give away devices are especially importantand the Obama administration gets this. As the administrations telecommunications agency pointed out last year, digital locks backed up by legal threats arent just used to police copyrightstheyre used to block competition. …