Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Consumers and Their Cell Phones

The Obama Administration is taking up the cause of cellphone customers who want to keep their cellphones after their contracts have run out. Some of these customers would like to "unlock" their phones and switch to another mobile phone provider, but current law prohibits them from doing so.  There used to be an exemption that would allow customers to switch to another provider once their contracts had ended, but the Copyright Office, which provides the exemption, did not renew it. 

FCC Chair Julius Genachowski issued the following statement on the issue.

The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress recently reversed its longstanding position and stated it is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for consumers to unlock new mobile phones, even those outside of contract periods, without their wireless providers’ permission, and that consumers are subject to criminal penalties if they do.
From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.

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