The Obama Administration has publicly signaled its support to reverse a recent ruling by the Library of Congress that prevents cell phone owners from unlocking the devices so they may be compatible with multiple mobile carriers.
The ban on unlocking phones, which was supported by the wireless carrier industry, became effective on Jan. 26. Almost immediately, it sparked protests and a petition posted on the White House website asking for the Administration to step in to help overturn the ban. The petition was supported by 114,000 signatures.
Before the ban, phone buyers (individuals or organizations) could choose to pay a lower fee for a phone if they purchased a contract with a specific carrier or pay a higher price for an unlocked device without a carrier.
"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," wrote R. David Edelman, senior advisor for internet innovation & privacy in the Obama administration, in response to the petitioners. "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."
"From a communications policy perspective, this [ban] raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test," said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, 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. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution."
How much will demand for unlocked mobile devices change over the next five years?