FCC Chairman Says They Will Investigate Phone Unlocking Ban


As the law banning phone unlocking enters into another month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told TechCrunch will investigate the DMCA decision. The FCC will work to find if the ban is harmful to the competitive nature of the industry and whether or not the executive branch has any authority to effect change.

The “ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said last night at a TechCrunch CrunchGov event at the sites headquarters.

The DMCA act, which became law at the end of January, prevents consumers from unlocking their phones without the permission of their carrier. Prior to the DMCA law, consumers could “unlock” their phones as they saw fit and switch carriers with little to no effort. A petition to bring the DMCA decision to the attention of the White House recently passed the necessary 100,000 signature mark. With that threshold crossed, the White House must formally respond to the petition and hopefully will express public support for the reversal of the DMCA decision.

Genachowski remains unsure what kind of authority the FCC will have, but if he determines the DMCA move is harmful to consumers, he can bring considerable leverage to bear in the hopes of quickly reversing the decision.

“It’s something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones.”



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  • Dan

    I earned the money that bought the phone. I paid for the phone. I outright own the phone. So why does a carrier have the right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my personal property?

    • johns

      Your right. But Big Brother follows the $$$ follow the $$$ find the rotten fish head.

  • Birdsfan

    Only the sellouts to the carriers will want this law to stay in place…..

  • Shawndh

    I smell a rat called AT&T. There are hundreds of thousands of iPhones on T-Mobiles network now, paying half of what they paid on AT&T. They are the main ones who would benefit from this law.

    • dr c g

      Well, well, well. I perceive that you are a prophet. Lil

  • 21stNow

    I’m glad that the FCC has responded. Hopefully, they will side with the consumers on this one. I would love to see it go a step further and require that a carrier unlock any phone purchased at the full price or once the contract is completed, regardless of whether or not the device is “exclusive”.

    • thepanttherlady

      That should be the absolute MINIMUM requirement for carriers. I hope they won’t be allowed to tack on a fee for providing unlock codes either.

    • Baxter DeBerry

      agreed, hopefully something gets done…

    • superg05

      write them

  • Zach Mauch

    1. Phone locking, not just the banning of unlocking, is harmful to competition in the industry. It significantly increases the cost of switching carriers.

    2. We also need to get rid of the subsidy model that factors in phone cost to service and makes it more expensive for a user who chooses not to upgrade. If truly ended, phone price will go down significantly and will look more like the Nexus pricing structure we see with Google.

    T-Mobile is easily the most consumer friendly carrier out there when it comes to this and is paving the way for ending the subsidy model. That’s why I’m on T-Mobile and don’t see myself switching anytime soon.

  • Zach Mauch

    The day is coming, the momentum is there, it’s just a matter of when it happens.

    The it I’m referring to is this. We will buy phone from a store or manufacture, not through the carrier. This phone will be free of subsidies and will compete openly on price just like tablets do today (look how cheap they have gotten). We will then be able to choose any carrier for that phone since it will work on any LTE frequency. Simply insert that carrier’s sim, and go.

    That day is coming my friends, I feel it in my bones. We’ve had a lot of progress with pre-paid networks, the nexus phones, and T-Mobile’s Value plans. However, we have a long way yet to go. Keep fighting!!!! Viva La Revolution!!!!

  • sadfij

    it my phone i can do what i want with it! that the basic jest of it

  • GwapoAko

    All phones should be unlocked whether you bought it from the carriers or not. On contract or not.!!!

  • Bai Shen

    A point of clarification. There wasn’t a DMCA law passed. This was simply the expiration of an exemption. The DMCA always banned unlocking of phones, but an exemption had previously been in place.

    • Zac

      David, come on man! It still doesn’t seem like you’ve taken an hour of time to understand the concept of how DMCA exemptions work. There was no act that became law in January; an exemption expired in October with a 90-day grace period that expired January 26th. It still also sounds as though you’re still referring to the DMCA as an entity. There was a decision made by the LIbrarian of Congress not to renew a DMCA exemption, that had been in place for six years (or two rule-making exemption cycles), explicitly exempting cell phone unlocking from the DMCA legislation. The Librarian of Congress cannot make laws. We are simply back in the pre-2006 state of unlocking; a grey area. If you have some time you should read EFF’s write-up on the issue as it’s explained best there.

  • Addam

    “any authority to effect change.” Do you want to bring about change, or do you want to change the change? In this case it’s affect change. Grammar Cop

  • macman37

    According to electronista.com, “Unlocking without carrier permission carries a potential penalty of up to five years in jail and a $500,000 fine.” {http://www.electronista.com/articles/13/03/01/chairman.unsure.of.what.power.the.fcc.holds.over.the.matter/}. With a punishment being this ice cold, AT&T should start thinking about investing in installing towers in the jails and prisons. I, for one hope that they reverse the ruling on unlocking; because this is a definite extreme form of unnecessary punishment. In some ways, I think those who jailbreak their phones should be punished – definitely not like this -; one of the things that gets compromised when a device is jailbroken is the operating system’s security. The device then becomes vulnerable to spyware like keyloggers after being jailbroken.

  • edfranco1

    the governments involvment in phone unlocking ban wont keep me from doing it. I say &u@k them.

  • Noel

    Google is actually doing it right with the Nexus line up by selling unlocked and cheaper high end devices. That is a model i hope should guide the FCC in deciding and mandating that all devices bought out right should be unlocked and those fully paid for after a contract should be unlocked as well without the carrier putting any financial road blocks. I see the hand of one particular carrier involved in pushing this absurd law..in the hopes of making it difficult for many of its customers from moving over to cheaper Tmo and other value plans. I expect if i buy my HTC One outright from Tmo/HTC for them to unlock it or provide me the unlock codes.