By Alexandra Burlacu | Mar 02, 2013 10:05 AM EST
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may eventually investigate whether it should indeed be illegal for consumers to unlock their cell phones.
The cell phone unlocking ban went into effect on Jan. 26, 2013, leaving many people puzzled as to why it should be illegal for consumers to unlock their mobile devices even if their contract expired. A petition aiming to overturn the cell phone unlocking ban raised more than 100,000 signatures, and things seem far from settling down.
The petition stirred a great wave of criticism for the law banning the unlocking of cell phones, and the FCC will reportedly investigate whether the ban negatively affects economic competitiveness and if the executive branch has enough authority to change it.
"The ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told TechCrunch. The ban is "something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones."
For those unfamiliar with the situation, the Library of Congress modified the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to make it illegal for consumers to unlock mobile devices. Consumers still have the right to purchase unlocked phones at full price, but they cannot unlock them themselves. Unlocked phones generally costs hundreds of dollars more than handsets locked into a two-year contract with a carrier.
The Copyright Office reviews the rules on unlocking and jailbreaking devices every three years, as required by the DMCA. This time, regulators concluded that "there are ample alternatives to circumvention," as consumers now have a wide range of unlocked phone options.
The only way for U.S. consumers to unlock their phones legally now is to get permission from their carriers. While this is not unachievable, many opponents and activists argue that the new rule limits consumer choice and it will make regular mobile phone users vulnerable to carrier lawsuits.
While Genachowski did not say the FCC will definitely investigate the matter, he did seem to indicate some doubt about the new rule. It also remains unclear how the FCC could step in, if it finds it necessary to do so, to address rules the Library of Congress set in place.
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