Petition against unlocked phones ruling will force White House response

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A petition asking the White House to rescind a government ruling restricting consumers from unlocking their cell phones crossed the 100,000-signature threshold Thursday, meaning the Obama administration will need to formally respond to the petition.

The petition, started Jan. 25 by OpenSignal co-founder Sina Khanifar, asked that "the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal."

Currently, if U.S. mobile customers want to unlock their handset and bring it to another carrier, they now need express permission from their current carrier to do so, according to a government ruling that went into effect Jan. 26.

The ruling, from the Library of Congress, concerns the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and was issued last October. In effect, the Library of Congress, which governs copyright law, said that there is no copyright exemption for unlocking cellphones, making unauthorized unlocking potentially illegal. "Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad," the petition states. "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full."

However, as CNET notes, the petition is somewhat symbolic since the Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office are part of the legislative branch, not the executive branch. Therefore, Congress would need to pass a law overturning the decision since Obama cannot force the Library of Congress to do so.

CTIA has pushed for the new rules, in part because it protects wireless carriers that pay to subsidize handsets in exchange for customers agreeing to two-year contracts. "According to the Librarian of Congress, who agreed with CTIA, the exemption for unlocking was not necessary because 'the largest nationwide carriers have liberal, publicly available unlocking policies,' and because unlocked phones are 'freely available from third party providers--many at low prices,'" CTIA wrote in a blog post last month.

Many unlocked devices in the United States are sold unsubsidized by handset makers and retailers, and are often hundreds of dollars more expensive than subsidized versions. Some carriers offer unlocked phones and can unlock phones if customers request it.

For more:
- see the petition
- see this TheNextWeb article
- see this CNET article
- see this Mashable article

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