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Cellphones Your Rights Online

White House Urges Reversal of Ban On Cell-Phone Unlocking 256

Posted by samzenpus
from the set-my-phone-free dept.
netbuzz writes "In a dramatic call for action directly prompted by 114,000 signatures on a 'We the People' petition, the Obama Administration moments ago urged the reversal of a federal regulatory decision that had rendered the act of unlocking a cell phone illegal. From the reply: '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. 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.' Statements from the FCC and Library of Congress indicate that they back the administration's position."
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White House Urges Reversal of Ban On Cell-Phone Unlocking

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  • Link to the response (Score:5, Informative)

    by entropiccanuck (854472) on Monday March 04, 2013 @04:54PM (#43072197)
    Would be nice to have in the summary [whitehouse.gov].
  • Confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by karmawhore (122760) on Monday March 04, 2013 @04:55PM (#43072205)

    ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

    Since when do we have that?

    • by game kid (805301)

      Yeah, I love that "continue to have" part too...can't tell if the WH is being sarcastic or the telco money [opensecrets.org] actually convinced them so.

  • The Real News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:01PM (#43072293) Homepage Journal

    The real news item here is that a We The People petition actually garnered a thought-out response, instead of a boilerplate restating of current policy.

    First time for everything...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      The only reason this policy is getting attention is that nobody important (read: major corporations) stands to lose much by changing the policy. It's not an important issue, when compared to drug reform, single payer health care, drone strikes, or jailing bankers. It's just a shiny bauble Obama can use to misdirect us away from these important issues.

      • Re:The Real News (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdotNO@SPAMworf.net> on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:44PM (#43073605)

        The only reason this policy is getting attention is that nobody important (read: major corporations) stands to lose much by changing the policy. It's not an important issue, when compared to drug reform, single payer health care, drone strikes, or jailing bankers. It's just a shiny bauble Obama can use to misdirect us away from these important issues.

        Actually, they do. Local in-network service is practically provided on a at-cost basis (except for data, which is pretty much the only profit center available). What makes them money is roaming - when you roam and pay the expensive roaming fees that can easily be $1/minute+, $0.50/text, $1/MB, etc., that is split up between the foriegn carrier and your carrier.

        It's why carriers offer "travel packages" - hoping you'd go over, as well as being able to charge you a little more.

        An unlocked phone, even on contract, using another SIM deprives them of this revenue source.

        • by adolf (21054)

          Roaming?

          I use Verizon and live in a semi-populated area (Ohio), and travel to all manner of little podunk town for business, often on back roads to keep the driving interesting. The only time my phone has been "roaming" in recent years has been down at a buddy's farm down in a random Kentucky holler where the nights are quiet, the stars are magnificent, and you have to climb a hill to get any signal at all.

          Otherwise: West to Chicago? Verizon. East to Connecticut? Verizon. South to Florida? Verizon.

    • In reading the response, my takeaway was
      1) The Obama Administration agrees with the ideas in the petition.
      and
      2) This is the fault of the Librarian of Congress who can legally make this call.

      This is followed by some vague talk of how they "support a range of approaches to addressing this issue" and how other agencies (FCC, Congress, mobile providers) should consider doing something about it.
      Oh yeah, I'm just holding my breath to see the action commence!
      • Re:The Real News (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday March 04, 2013 @08:27PM (#43074475)

        Did you note in the WH response that they supported unlocking of cells/tablets "when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation"?

        If you read the LoC's original decision, the "you can't unlock your phone" applied while you were under contract.

        In other words, no real change there.

    • To be fair, a lot of successful petitions also lack what could be called "well thought out" qualities. A lot of really successful petitions are asking the president to do unconstitutional things, or override a decision made by congress, or, terrifying to me, I've seen numerous instances of people asking the president to interfere with criminal proceedings.

      Not to mention the outright jokes that the site is used for. We use one of the constitutionally protected tools for fixing our government to ask them to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858)

        To be fair, a lot of successful petitions also lack what could be called "well thought out" qualities.

        To be truly fair, you'd have to go read all the petitions that received answers; a large number of them, including every single one about marijuana legalization, received the standard, boilerplate B.S. response, regardless of how "well thought out" they may have been. I tend to agree with other posters, who point out that this is likely an attempt by the Obama Administration to trick the public into thinking that they take our grievances seriously.

        Not to mention the outright jokes that the site is used for. We use one of the constitutionally protected tools for fixing our government to ask them to build a death star.

        The lack of proper response to serious petitions came long b

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      The real news item here is that a We The People petition actually garnered a thought-out response, instead of a boilerplate restating of current policy.

      Exactly. There is some hope that the white house actually listens, and just maybe actually cares.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      It's a start. With 100K+ signatures, it might even turn some representatives' and senators' heads.

      And that's the point of the system. It hasn't fulfilled its ultimate purpose yet, but it's headed there. We'll see how far this gets in 4 years, and if anything significant and meaningful comes out of it.

    • But that does not always happen. They just gave a flippant response to the one I signed, "We are not in the business of blowing up planets".
      • But that does not always happen. They just gave a flippant response to the one I signed, "We are not in the business of blowing up planets".

        To which I would respond, 'your terrestrial policies indicate otherwise.'

    • Yes, but that policy doesn't go far enough. We need a law that mandates cross-compatibility between cell networks (just like the laws they have in Europe).

      An unlocked Sprint CDMA phone doesn't get me anywhere in the United States. Verizon won't accept it on its own CDMA network. And the other networks are not compatible with CDMA, so they couldn't accept it even if they wanted to.

      Recently, my Sprint phone became useless where I live, at least as a data connection, as a phone it still worked. Although, I ha

  • I guess we can recall the death star from over Washington DC.

  • CDMA Carriers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZildjianKX (872002) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:10PM (#43072421)
    "...you should be able to use it on another network". Outside the scope of unlocking, but why are CDMA carriers allowed to block activating phones on their network that they didn't sell to you? This seems worse than cell phone locking. Both Verizon and Virgin Mobile both told me I couldn't use an iPhone 4S (CDMA/GSM phone) on their network unless they sold it to me.
    • by hawkbug (94280)

      You are absolutely correct. It is worse than locking. The Sprint and Verizon iPhone 4 and 4s are identical hardware-wise. But both companies colluded together to keep you from registering phones they didn't sell.

    • by jader3rd (2222716)

      but why are CDMA carriers allowed to block activating phones on their network that they didn't sell to you?

      Because they don't want something connecting to their network that can do damage to their network. But you say, "Shouldn't they have defense in depth strategies for dealing with a rogue client?" Yes, they should; but apparently they don't, which is why they're so worried about (and have extensive tests around) every software update that could possibly be pushed out to existing phones.

  • In fact, the very reason that they gave for why it was felt acceptable to have a ban on cell phone unlocking (the alleged wide availability of unlocked cell phones as alternatives for consumers) is the very reason that it should *NOT* be illegal for consumers to unlock cell phones.

    Because by creating laws which protect locked cell phones from being tampered with by consumers, the system ends up creating an incentive (however slight) for cell phone providers to actually distribute locked cell phones, usually in place of unlocked ones, so that the distributors can enjoy whatever additional benefits that the legal protection actually offers. It's the same problem as with outlawing the breaking of encryption on copyrighted works... the lawmakers end up supporting a particular business model or technology that may not actually reflect what consumers really want. And because providers of such devices have been given some additional incentive to distribute such locked devices, the availability of unlocked devices will gradually start to decrease over time, ultimately leaving a consumer with little to no choice but to either purchase a locked technology, or else ultimately simply not be be part of the modern culture that regularly uses such technologies at all.

    It might not be immediately obvious, but it's certainly not rocket science either. I only wish more people could see it.

  • So now that Obama has come out in favor of this, what reasoning will the Republicans use to oppose it? Will they appeal to their libertarian ideals that telcos should be able to do whatever the fuck they want to their consumers?
  • Insufficient (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:16PM (#43072481) Journal

    FTFR: "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."

    Emphasis mine. It doesn't matter what service agreement you have, it should not be illegal to unlock the phone. If you have an agreement (aka a contract), then the contract language states what you may do with your device to remain within the bounds of the contract, and if you choose to violate that agreement what the injured party is allowed to recover as a result of your default. It's basic contract law - and it's straight forward. The carriers don't really give a rat's ass what you do with your subsidized phone, as long as you fulfill your 24 months of minimum service. If you buy your device, unlock it, and go buy service with another company they really don't care - just as long as your check clears every month for the next two years. Hell, I'll bet AT&T would sell unlocked iPhones for $2000 with no commitment at all ($200+$75/mo for 24 months) if they though they could sell enough of them.

    Point is - this should not be a criminal statute. It's contract law; civil stuff - plain and simple.

    • Service providers would like to be able to sell subsidised phones for use with pre-paid plans, knowing that the subsidy will not be lost because the phone is used on a competitor's service.
      • Rather than subsidizing the phone for pre-paid plans, just sell them on instalment plans. That way the end-user pays the full price of the phone no matter what, and also gets the benefit of not paying extra money to the carrier after the phone is paid off.

    • The locking of the phone is completely orthogonal to whether or not you still owe the carrier.

      There should be no reason why I can't use the same phone with another carrier as long as I'm still paying the original carrier for the phone subsidy.

    • It's basic contract law - and it's straight forward. The carriers don't really give a rat's ass what you do with your subsidized phone, as long as you fulfill your 24 months of minimum service.

      Or pay the early termination fee which is its equivalent.

      You're totally right.

    • OK, the early termination fee is meant to recoup the cost of the subsidy on the phone if you back out of the contract early. I don't necessarily like the practice, but I understand the reasoning behind it. However, the current wording of most(all?) cell phone contracts is that if you pay the ETF, you are released from the contract. By extension, would that then fall under the no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation stipulation you quoted?
  • by greywire (78262) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:23PM (#43072561) Homepage

    Its an evil Obama plot to take away our cell phones.. no, I mean, its an Obamanation conspiracy to give away cell phones to lazy welfare bums.. ah.. no.. it must be a liberal democrat plan to make Obama the first dictator of America by screwing the kind hearted telecom companies and making us all love him with our free unlocked cell phones and thus we'll abolish the 2 term limit and all become muslims and be overly healthy with our free health care and and and..

  • What they actually did was say they would support allowing you to unlock your phone only after it was paid for / off of contract. That is not at all the same thing as saying they are supporting a ban on cell phone locking and the story submission is misleading at best.

    Your two year old cell phone could be unlocked and transferred to another carrier under their proposal, not your current cell phone that your actually using (if your the average smart phone user). For most people that have a modern cell phone

    • It means if you buy a cell phone without a contract, however, you can unlock it. Contracts are still bound by contract law. This wouldn't change that. If you want to save a ton of money by tethering yourself to a particular vendor then that is your choice.

  • by waspleg (316038) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:32PM (#43072665) Journal

    Read what they say. It pretty much says implicitly that if you've got a contract, fuck you, otherwise "yes we believe". That covers the telecom bases. Wanna get your "free" upgrade as part of your contract and sell it to someone on CL for $200 off MSRP? Still under contract? Then Fuck You.

    Wanna switch your phone midstream?

    "This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs -- even if it isn't the one on which the device was first activated"

    What does that mean? That means AT THE END OF THE CONTRACT otherwise FUCK YOU.

    This is way less liberal than people seem to be interpreting it. They've also let the FCC in and other red tape that will ensure this moves at a typical snails pace. Read between the lines, read what it doesn't spell out.

    Is it better than nothing? Yes. Is it a full retraction and concession to public pressure? Fuck no.

    PS, I read this on Hacker News hours ago.

  • by genericmk (2767843) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:50PM (#43072919)
    I think what's going to come out of it is that the contracts with carriers will be re-written. When you "buy" your smartphone at a discounted price from a carrier by all means they should own the carrier lock as it protects their "investment" into subsidizing the handset in hopes of making it back with profit (albeit disproportionately large profit) on your contract. Until your contract period is in place, I don't see why it should be allowed for you switch carriers? I suppose the gray area is oversea travel where the carrier lock forces you into paying an exuberant amount for calls. But then, they technically till own your handset so you may as well just get a prepaid phone locally and keep your smartphone as a computer with wifi access only.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BradleyUffner (103496)

      I think what's going to come out of it is that the contracts with carriers will be re-written.
      When you "buy" your smartphone at a discounted price from a carrier by all means they should own the carrier lock as it protects their "investment" into subsidizing the handset in hopes of making it back with profit (albeit disproportionately large profit) on your contract. Until your contract period is in place, I don't see why it should be allowed for you switch carriers?

      That's why you get charged an ETF for breaking the contract early. The ETF is supposed to make up for the part of the subsidy that hasn't been paid back yet.

  • Maybe other people feel they are on networks that deliver

    innovative products and solid service

    ... but that certainly doesn't describe my experience of the past 7-8 years. If anything, my coverage has become worse where I live, and my carrier doesn't generally carry phone that I want (at least, not at prices I want to pay). In fact the only thing that seems innovative about my carrier is that they keep coming up with new "innovative" ways to pull more money out of me for the same shoddy product.

  • The FCC must be smoking everything the DEA seizes!

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