FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the FCC will be investigating whether or not a ban on cellphone unlocking is a sensible demand. The government communications body will also be exploring its options to address the ban, assuming it determines the ban is unnecessary.
Genachowski's interest in cellphone unlocking follows much public furor over the ban. In fact, a recent petition against the prohibition generated over 104,000 signatures before February 23 -- 100,000 is the minimum number required to qualify for a potential White House response.
Although jailbreaking smartphones has remained legal since 2010, unlocking -- or modifying a phone so it works on any carrier -- was recently re-outlawed. The Library of Congress failed to renew an earlier 2012 decision which temporarily lifted the existing ban on unlocking, allowing the activity to once again become illegal.
It's unlikely the FCC has any authority over the matter; however, the commission may be able to influence future decisions on the matter by either Congress or the White House.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the bill responsible for prohibiting the unlocking of cell phones. The DMCA makes illegal the circumvention of any mechanism intended to restrict access to media, software or technology -- that includes cell phones. However, the DMCA also bestows our nation's grandest library with the authority to grant exemptions to this rule, which inadvertently put the Federal Library in charge of unlocking phones.
Interestingly, jailbreaking (or its equivalent) remains illegal for game consoles and even tablets, despite the fact they are essentially upscaled smartphones. Since the LoC explicitly defines exemptions rather than inclusions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act though, the Library has presumably refrained from exempting tablets in order to avoid having to legally define the still-maturing technology.