White House sides with consumers in “cell phone unlocking” debate

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Chances are that at some point you’ve purchased a cell phone from a major cell phone service carrier such as Sprint or T-Mobile. Well, when you purchased that phone, you probably got it at a discounted price as part of your agreement to pay that carrier for monthly service for a specified amount of time (usually two years).

Well, what happens with that phone after that time period is up? You paid for it, but is it yours to do with as you wish? Should you be able to take that same phone to a competing carrier and use their service?

These are the questions surrounding one of the hottest debates in the wireless phone industry right now.

To be able to use the phone with an alternate carrier, the phone must first be “unlocked.” This means to remove all of the proprietary software that the original carrier installed on the phone in order to get it to work with their network. Customers believe that unlocking should be perfectly legal, as they have paid for the phone and lived up to their contractual service agreement.

The major carriers obviously don’t want this; and apparently they’ve put their lobbyists in Washington to work.

On January 26, a federal mandate kicked-in that said carrier-locked phones are not allowed to be unlocked without the carrier’s permission. The feds argument centered around the fact that there are plenty of unlocked-phone purchasing options out there, and if you want the benefit  of a cell phone discount, you have to take it on their terms.

But just as soon as the law went into effect, an Internet petition at whitehouse.gov seeking to overturn it amassed over 114,000 signatures. A petition needs 100,000 signatures to solicit the administration’s response.

“The White House agrees with the 114,000 plus of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” wrote R. David Edelman, the White House senior adviser for Internet, innovation and privacy, in a post on the We The People blog.

Now the White House is calling on the FCC to take a closer look at the situation along with the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration).

“It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs,” Edelman added.

Well said, Mr. Edelman. Pure TalkUSA couldn’t agree more.

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