Currently, unlocking a cellphone is illegal unless a subscriber turns to their carrier for assistance. Typically, there are procedures in place; a customer can purchase a device at the full retail, no contract price and immediately upon activation request the unlock code. iPhone subscribers would have to purchase directly from Apple (they use Sprint) for an unlocked phone. The petition filed by the Obama administration to the FCC will indicate a wider power of unlocking. This petition, if approved, may see an elimination of the contract for carriers who will be forced to unlock cellphones immediately proceeding a contract. For now, carriers await consumer requests to do so.
The petition can also boost the secondary phone market, especially for individuals who sell phones through third-party outlets like Amazon or eBay. Only original owners can request an unlock key, if the petition passes, any person holding the phone would be able to unlock it. The administration stated in their petition doing so would promote public interest, thus leading to a fair analysis from carriers to honor the request. For those unaware unlocking the phone permits customers to use a local SIM (for GSM networks) when traveling. Consider a Galaxy Samsung; a consumer can purchase one without a contract, request the unlock from their carrier and off they go to Europe. They can purchase a local SIM and pay lower local pricing, rather than expensive International plans from their carrier. The CDMA transition varies and is used in less global markets than GSM which is considered a world phone.
Earlier this year, spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg for the Library of Congress stated the market has shifted in recent years. She sees no reason for the petition as consumers can request an unlock process from their carrier and some outlets are willing to sell unlocked phones. Osterberg does have a point, but it seems the Obama administration to the FCC is intended for a bigger reason. A law is scheduled to take place in 2014 that “would make it punishable for up to five years to unlock a mobile phone without permission from” the carriers.
It is the Library of Congress that reviews the laws, and it was the Library that decided not to renew an exemption of unlocking cell phones. They see a level of copyright issues of carrier software which can affect the unlock process. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) disagrees and in the past has agreed with the Obama administration on the practice of the unlock process. The federal agency also stated in providing this option, it opens competitions and choice for consumers.
The issue is not a partisan one. Many legislatures including John Conyers (D), Jason Chaffetz (R), Mel Watt (D) and Bob Goodlatte (R) agree with NTIA. The one area that makes one pause is when a politician listed the unlock issue as “significant importance” to most Americans. Granted, there are other issues that demand greater review, but the general point was made.
There are some worries and concerns when it comes to passing a legal lock process. Some legislatures are concerned if they extend the unlock permissions to someone outside of the phone’s owner, it can raise phone theft and black market resells. Other legislatures shot down the concern as novice understanding of technology. Right now, a very small percentage of consumers have the techie know-how to unlock devices, turning to third-party supplies to do so.
This proposed petition does not strike fear into AT&T’s heart. AT&T is the largest GSM carrier and with that network, customers can request an unlock immediately following the end of their contract date. Only iPhones are considered unique and must undergo a form submission for approval. Verizon may be struggling with the news; if this petition affects the unlock process the largest CDMA carrier may be scrambling to figure out their next steps.
The Obama administration submitted a petition to the FCC, overstepping the Library of Congress to receive a result. The unlock requests would not affect the millions of AT&T or other GSM customers. Overall, their policy requires a customer’s contract to complete prior to requesting the process. This bill in no way permits a customer to request the unlock process during the contract. Now customers and carriers alike await the final word from the FCC and information from the Library of Congress.