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White House Supports Phone Unlocking

Less than two weeks after a petition on the We The People site crossed the 100,000 signature threshold, the White House hasissued on official response on making cellphone unlocking legal again.

And they totally support it.

In a statement that can only be seen as a huge win for activists in this arena, the White House just announced that “it’s time to legalize cellphone unlocking.”

“The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” said Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy David Edelman. “In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”

In January, unlocking new cellphones became illegal via a decision from the Library of Congress. In short, they reversed their decision to exempt cellphone unlocking from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s still legal to unlock phones purchased before January 26th, but doing so on any device purchased after that cutoff mean you could run afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Edelman goes on to explain that the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) previously made their opinion on the matter known – full support for the concept of cellphone unlocking. But that the NTIA’s recommendation was ultimately rejected by the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress also released a statement.

“The rulemaking is a technical, legal proceeding and involves a lengthy public process,” they said.

And although they recognize that “rulemaking serves a very important function, but it was not intended to be a substitute for deliberations of broader public policy,” it doesn’t look like the Library is planning on fast-tracking the will of the people here (and now the White House).

“Clearly the White House and Library of Congress agree that the DMCA exception process is a rigid and imperfect fit for this telecommunications issue, and we want to ensure this particular challenge for mobile competition is solved,” said Edelman, also noting that the White House respects the process performed by the Librarian of establishing and eliminating exceptions – in this case having to do with the DMCA.

Here’s what the White House says about moving forward:

The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.

We also believe the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with its responsibility for promoting mobile competition and innovation, has an important role to play here. FCC Chairman Genachowski today voiced his concern about mobile phone unlocking, and to complement his efforts, NTIA will be formally engaging with the FCC as it addresses this urgent issue.

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the FCC would be looking into the issue.

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