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New FCC Chairman threatens regulation to force carriers on cell phone unlocking issue

News by Andrew Kameka on Friday November 15, 2013.

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Tom Wheeler's first public actions as FCC Chairman concern a familiar topic: he wants the wireless industry to take it upon itself to make cell phone unlocking easier to do, and he's willing to regulate the industry if carriers do not voluntary change policies.

The recently appointed Chairman sent a letter to the CTIA Wireless Association strongly suggesting that the association encourage its members to voluntarily change its policies so consumers can freely unlock cellular phones. In the letter, Wheeler stated that the FCC and CTIA have been working together for months to develop a system that acknowledges consumer rights to unlocking wireless devices. The two agencies have reportedly reached an agreement on 4 of the 5 tenets of a plan, but the one hold up is a policy that would "affirmatively notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking and/or automatically unlock devices when eligible, without an additional fee."

Though carriers remain opposed to an automatic unlock, Wheeler says his patience is waning. He writes:

"We are anxious to work with you and your members to resolve this matter expeditiously. Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate. Let's set a goal of including the full unlocking rights policy in the CTIA Consumer Code before the December holiday season."

Unlocking phones has been a contentious issue for several years. The Library of Congress made it illegal to unlock phones without carrier permission earlier this year, creating problems for consumers who have paid for a phone and wish to use it on another network or when traveling internationally. A phone can only be unlocked at the carrier's whim, but the FCC seeks to set new policies that will make any wireless device unlockable once contract obligations are fulfilled.

source: Public Knowledge (PDF), via: Ars Technica

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Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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