Newly appointed FCC chairman calls for wireless carriers to unlock cell phones

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Newly appointment chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is already kickstarting some changes by issuing a letter surrounding regulations on carrier locked cell phones.

As you likely know, unlocking a device allows it to be functional on networks other than the original carrier. For quite some time, wireless carriers were happy to unlock a device after your contract was fulfilled, until earlier this year when doing so became illegal. After the Library of Congress dropped a particular exemption from the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, carriers were unable to unlock devices the way they had in the past. Wheeler is strongly opposed to this and is now pushing the industry to address "consumers' rights to unlock their mobile wireless devices."

Chairman Wheeler wrote in a letter issued to the president of the wireless carrier representative association, CTIA, calling for a clear and concise policy regarding the unlocking of devices after a contract has been fulfilled. Wheeler said in the letter that enough "time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate."

He went on to say the FCC wants the unlocking process to happen within two days of request and at no additional fee. The commission also wants military personnel devices to be unlocked upon deployment. Lastly, Wheeler says that carriers should have to "affirmatively notify" customers when their devices become eligible for unlocking, something he says is one of the only points in the letter the FCC and CTIA are yet to agree on.

In response to the FCC's letter, CTIA vice president of regulatory affairs Scott Bergman had this to say:

We look forward to continuing discussions under Chairman Wheeler's leadership and to ensuring consumers continue to benefit from the world-leading range of competitive devices and offerings. Today's U.S. consumers have a wide variety of unlocked devices and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them. CTIA also continues to advocate for the passage of 'The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act' (H.R. 1123), which would address consumer confusion about unlocking as a result of the 2012 decision of the Librarian of Congress. 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.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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