All Tech Considered
7:11 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

Wireless Companies, FCC Reach Deal On 'Unlocking' Cellphones

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 7:45 pm

U.S. wireless carriers reached a deal with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday that will make it easier for consumers to "unlock" their mobile phones and use them on a competitor's network.

The deal came in the wake of a consumer rebellion over the policy of locking cellphones to a carrier. A petition that garnered more than 114,000 signatures landed at the White House, and the Obama administration sided with the petitioners.

The law changed this year after a ruling by the Library of Congress, which oversees U.S. copyright law and reviews exemptions every three years. After pressure from the wireless industry, the Library of Congress did not renew an exemption that had allowed consumers to unlock a cellphone.

But under Thursday's agreement, a carrier such as T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon must now unlock a cellphone from its network within two days if a consumer requests it at the end of a service contract.

The agreement doesn't fully satisfy consumer advocates. Derek Khanna, one of the organizers of the White House petition, points out that it remains illegal to unlock a phone without permission from the carrier. "If a consumer chooses to unlock his or her own device," he says, "let's say [they] travel abroad, it is still a felony punishable by five years in prison."

Khanna also would like the FCC to monitor wireless companies to make certain that unlocking is an easy process for consumers. And advocates are still pressing for Congress to take up the issue and change copyright law.

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