Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler told the cellphone industry on Thursday that it is time to take action to ensure consumers can unlock their phones once they have fulfilled their contractual obligations.
In a letter to CTIA-The Wireless Association, Wheeler noted that the FCC has been working with the industry for eight months already. “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.”
The White House and a number of key members of Congress have also come out in favor of unlocking requirements. The issue heated up after the Library of Congress determined that unlocking cellphones without a carrier’s permission violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Wheeler’s letter lays out a number of steps that should be part of policies regarding unlocking, including a requirement that carriers notify consumers when their devices are eligible for unlocking.
CTIA, for its part, said it wants to work with Wheeler on the issue, but noted efforts already in progress and highlighted that technical hurdles – not just business issues – preclude full interoperability. It also noted it has worked with legislators on one of the many proposed bills pending before Congress.
“Today’s U.S. consumers have a wide variety of unlocked device and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them,” CTIA regulatory affairs VP Scott Bergmann said in a statement. “While CTIA supports giving consumers a robust set of options, it is important for consumers to note that an unlocked phone doesn’t necessarily mean an interoperable phone, given the technological and engineering realities of wireless networks.”
In an interview this week, Wheeler pledged to represent the American people rather than the tech industry in his new role.
Sina Khanifar, who started the White House petition on the unlocking issue, praised the FCC move, including Wheeler’s five recommendations for what a carrier unlocking policy should include.
“The CTIA should respond by moving quickly to enact his recommended policies,” he said in an email. “However, it’s important that actions by the FCC not derail the important work being done in Congress on the issue. Congress needs to pass a bill that would enable consumers to unlock their devices on their own, without requiring carrier cooperation.”