White House to push legislation to overturn cellphone unlocking ban

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Grassroots uproar over the recent ban against unlocking cellphones has culminated in a response from the White House stating the administration supports overturning the ban.

A recent ban by the Librarian of Congress against the unlocking of some cellphones went into effect on January 26, prohibiting smartphone owners from unlocking on-contract devices purchased after that date and transferring them to a new mobile carrier.

The ruling was made contrary to a recommendation by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in September 2012.

Unlocking cellphones was previously exempt from criminal penalty under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). First time offenders, under the new ruling, face up to a $500,000 penalty, five years in jail, or both.

The White House response came in just over a week after a petition seeking to overturn the ban reached the requisite 100,000 signature threshold needed to generate a response, according to the White House’s own rules.

“The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” said White House staffer R. David Edelman, stating that the principle should also be applied to tablets.

Edelman named several possible solutions, including “narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently said that the FCC would investigate the ban to see whether the agency “can and should enable consumers to use unlocked cell hones.”

Edelman said that the FCC and NTIA would work together to address the issue.

He also said that the White House “would encourage mobile providers to consider what steps they as businesses can take to ensure that their customers can fully reap the benefits and features they expect when purchasing their devices.”

The Library of Congress, in a statement regarding the White House response, explained that the rulemaking “can often serve as a barometer for broader policy concerns and broader policy action,” and that it has served that purpose.

Former Republican Hill staffer Derek Khanna, a technology analyst who helped to spearhead gathering support for the petition, called the White House’s announcement “terrific news.”

“This is a major affirmative victory for the digital generation that stood up against censorship of the internet through SOPA a year ago,” said Khanna.

Khanna commended the efforts of Sina Khanifar, who started the petition, as well as technology advocacy group Public Knowledge and the National College Republicans.

“The work of this movement is not done, now Congress must follow through — and it will require continued activism and engagement from average people who made this possible,” he said.

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