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Summary:

As of Jan. 26, it’s illegal for U.S. consumers to unlock their own cellphone but that could change now that the White House has showed support for a petition to overturn the rule.

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After a petition to the U.S. Federal government to review cellphone unlocking legislation gained more than 114,000 online signatures, the White House was required to officially respond. On Monday it did, citing consumer support for legal cellphone unlocks.

The petition, started by Sina Khanifar, was filed in response to a Jan. 26 date that put cell phone unlocking activities in control of the network operators, essentially making it illegal for consumers to unlock their own phones, even if out of contract or paid in full. The White House response indicates that understands various circumstances where consumers should have the right to unlock their devices, saying,

“This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs — even if it isn’t the one on which the device was first activated. All consumers deserve that flexibility.”

So what happens next?

The Obama administration publicly supports consumer choice in this matter according to the official White House response, but it’s more likely that the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will work with the FCC for further action in support of consumer unlocking of cell phones and tablets.

No action is being taken now that will immediately overturn the current rules. However, now that this has an official White House response, complete with support and a set of actions that can be taken, I hope we see a change sooner rather than later.

  1. It can’t happen soon enough. Most carriers’ plans not only make the user (ultimately) pay for the full cost of the device, they continue to charge as though the device is not yet paid for. I’m sensing a lot of discontent and the possibility of disruption (I have read many examples evidencing that on GigaOm) in the traditional cell model due to end user frustration. The major carriers would be smart to put out this part of the fire and sign on to what the president, FCC, NTIA, and – most importantly – their customers seem to want. Its no wonder StraightTalk, Virgin, RepublicWireless, Cricket, and so many other MVNOs are getting a lot of press these days. Thanks Kevin for keeping us informed.

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    1. I completely agree. I was very surprised when I bought my Nexus 4 off contract and realized that the carriers charge you the same, if not more, for month-to-month plans (if that option is even offered) even though I did not subsidize a phone. I went with an MVNO (Simple Mobile, which is on T-Mobile’s network), and now I am paying $50 for unlimited everything, without being locked into a contract, and I could not be happier.

      I will never lock myself into a carrier again, and I think it’s time that the government did something to stop their anti-consumer practices.

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