Cellphone unlocking still illegal in the U.S., FCC says it will redouble efforts to find solution

August 23, 2013
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At the very beginning of this year, cellphone unlocking essentially became illegal in the United States. Since then, we’ve seen petitions, a formal White House response and tons of chatter about how the situation will be changed. Unfortunately, all current plans have so far been all talk and no action.

Yesterday Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that despite the topic somewhat going cold, the FCC is still working hard to find a way to make it possible for consumers to unlock their phones. “I‘ve directed the FCC staff to redouble our efforts with partners across the administration and industry to explore all of our available options for a quick resolution,” said Clyburn.

The FCC can’t actually make any laws of its own, so what exactly can they do? Not much, other than urge law-makers and carriers to do something about it.

As it turns out, Clyburn isn’t that interested in a legislation-based fix to the problem. Instead, Clyburn feels that the best solution is to work with carriers directly to make voluntarily changes to their current policies. Clyburn’s longterm goal is to ensure that once a customer has completed their contractual obligations, carriers will allow phones to be unlocked with no questions asked.

I firmly believe a voluntary approach that promotes competition and consumer choice is still possible.
Mignon Clyburn
Acting FCC Chairwoman

Technically, such policies already exist at AT&T and T-Mobile. Both companies have no problem letting you unlock your new device after a contract expiration, but that same policy doesn’t necessarily extend to second-hand devices or if you missed a few payments along the way.

Honestly, I’m not so sure we can rely on carriers to make the change here. I feel that if we want real change, it will have to happen through legislation. Unfortunately, that means we could still be waiting a long time for a resolution. What do you think of device unlocking, is legislation change necessary or are current carrier policies good enough?

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