The RTIA calls on the FCC to make mobile device unlocking legal again

by: Andrew GrushSeptember 18, 2013


Earlier this year, an exemption in the DMCA expired that effectively made cellphone unlocking illegal in the United States. Shortly after this, a petition rose up calling for the government to do something about it. This led to declarations of support for cellphone unlocking from the FCC, the Obama administration and several members of Congress.

Despite all the initial hoopla, nothing has changed.

The good news is that the issue isn’t completely forgotten. Last month, the FCC stepped forward promising it would redouble its efforts to make cellphone unlocking legal. Now it seems that the Obama administration is also renewing its efforts.

A new National Telecommunications and Information Administration petition calls for the FCC to “immediately initiate the process of setting rules” that would allow the unlocking of both tablets and cellphones. The NTIA filing further suggests that the unlocking of devices should be done at a customer’s request, with absolutely no cost to the consumer.

[quote qtext=”Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle.” qperson=”Lawrence Strickling” qsource=”Assistant Secretary of the NTIA.” qposition=”center”]

The NTIA petition certainly sounds good, but it does very little in reality. The problem is that the FCC can’t make these kinds of laws on their own, and can merely ‘talk’ with carriers and law-making entities. Still, this is another step forward and could hopefully lead to a legal solution (finally).

To be fair, no one from the FBI is going to come knocking on your door if your unlock your handset. Still, it would be nice to know that the device you bought under subsidy is yours to do with as you please, without fear of coming afoul of the law. It would also be nice to know that your phone can be unlocked for free by the carrier, without having to go through the burden of unlocking a device yourself.

What do you think, should carriers have the right to keep devices locked down, or should cellphone locking be completely legal?

  • Spruce Cycle

    You can blame Apple for all this locked device nonsense.

    • K.


    • Jason Yuen

      Don’t post if you can’t back up your claims. Apple simply makes unlocking iPhones difficult which is a result of their closed ecosystem. If you buy a phone at full price from Apple store, it’s unlocked. It’s only locked if you buy it from a carrier, which is the same as almost every other phone out there.

      • Spruce Cycle

        Well, I did post and my claims are valid. I’m not obligated to prove anything to anyone esp. not to some sponge-headed Apple fanentity.

        • Jason Yuen

          You’re right. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, but there’s a word for accusing someone of something without base. Slander. If you want to be taken seriously and have a meaningful discussion, you back up your claims and don’t blabber your nonsense.

          • Spruce Cycle

            I accused a meglo-corporation that evades taxes of encouraging this god awful trend of locking devices that is not slander and Apple is not a person.


          • Jason Yuen

            So why are you singling out Apple? Why not blame Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Motorola and while you’re at it, Nike? They’re all doing the same thing. Don’t attack without reason. If you are trying to sell a service to people by enticing them in with a subsidized product, don’t you expect that product to have some exclusivity to you? Enlighten yourself with some knowledge please. If you want to debate, then do it in a civilized manner. This isn’t highschool.


  • K.

    It is quite unbelievable that you cannot unlock your device in the US. From my point of view, phones should never be locked. Although they are subsidised, you still pay for them. And the phones on contract are even more expensive that without a contract and they give you less freedom. This is way I have stopped buying phones on contract: cheaper, faster update, no network added apps, more freedom.

    • Keg Man

      While that works for some carriers, we can’t buy phones for our nations largest carrier, verizon, without getting it with the bloat, etc. because only their phones work on their network. So buying a phone on the google play store for verizon will not work.

      • K.

        That is really a shame. It shouldn’t be legal to block consumers this way. I am glad that it is not like this in Europe. I wonder how it is in Asia.

      • kevin

        My Verizon galaxy nexus begs to differ. While yes ithas a “my Verizon” app, I would have downloaded it anyways to manage my bill.

        • Keg Man

          I too have the verizon galaxy nexus and while it didn’t have the usual bloat, it did come with some. I immediately deleted everything so I dont remember everything on there but I remember it definitely having the verizon backup app

  • RaptorOO7

    Well if you leave your carrier during the contract period you PAY an ETF Fee so in effect your device is fully paid for and is now yours. There is no reason not to allow unlocking and its clear our Gov’t is bought and paid for by the industry and lobbyist groups.

  • Dt Bell

    Why can’t these devices be regarded as an appliance and not an apendment of a wireless company.

  • Jav11 .

    hope this legal thing official,and stays that way..

  • Eddie J Camacho

    DAM RIGHT!!!! Tired of the tyranny of companies such as Verizon first with the super updates in software for Androids & now acting like Dictators. I should definitely have the right as many others to change companies & take our fully paid phones else where

  • rabidhunter

    Now can they get the NFC Payments from Google Wallet unblocked, too. Yikes, sure, they (VZW, ATT, TMo) give us an alternative, but a horrible and crippled one…