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Tom Wheeler turns against his former employer, the CTIA

Phone unlocking -- defeating OEM and carrier software constraints that prevent users from freely switching between carriers with otherwise compatible devices -- has been a subject of much contention in the U.S.  Unlocking was ruled illegal -- unless your carrier allows it -- via the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act [PDF] (DMCA).

Then in July 2010, the Library of Congress (LoC) ruled on language in the DMCA as it pertained to cell phones, arguing phone unlocking was legal.  But in an Oct. 2012 re-review, the LoC Librarian sided with OEMs like Apple, Inc. (AAPL) ruling that unlocking was actually illegal.  For consumers the ruling meant that they could void their warranties if they unlocked.  And it also stifled the development of unlocking tools, as participating in such efforts could now earn you fines and/or prison time.

But a fresh push to legalize unlocking is coming from new U.S. Federal Communications Commission's nominated chairman Tom Wheeler, who may replace Julius Genachowski, who in March left the FCC to serve as a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute, a non-profit think-tank.

FCC Tom Wheeler
Mr. Wheeler (seen to the right of President Obama) once worked for the CTIA, who is a top opponent of unlocking. [Image Source:]

Mr. Wheeler comments:

Who knew the Library of Congress had this far of a reach?  I am a strong supporter of intellectual property rights. At the same point in time, I believe that when I as a consumer or you as a consumer, or anyone have fulfilled our commitment and we've paid off our contract, that we ought to have the right to use that device and move it across carriers as we see fit. I look forward to working on this issue and resolving this issue to give consumers flexibility.

I don't know whether it [should be] a permanent exemption [to the DMCA], whether it is a rewrite of the Copyright Act, or what the appropriate solution is, but I do believe there needs to be a solution and consumers should have the right to unlock their phones after they've lived up to their side of the agreement.

His decision to stand up for unlocking is somewhat interesting.

Earlier in his career he served as a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), as well as being a venture capitalist investing in numerous online/wireless business firms.  The CTIA in particular vigorously opposed unlocking, writing it "did not meet the burden of proof" to secure a Fair Use exemption to the DMCA.

In other words, Chairman Wheeler has done a 180, going from lobbying for a trade group that was one of unlocking's largest opponents, to heading the federal government's top wireless regulatory agency and championing unlocking.

His comments come at a critical moment -- his nomination hearing before the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.  His nomination is expected to go through, despite some controversy over his remarks which indicated he might have allowed AT&T, Inc. (Tto purchase Deutsche Telekom AG (ETR:DTE) subsidiary T-Mobile USA,  a move which his predecessor Mr. Genachowski fought to block.  He dismissed his blog on the topic as "hypothetical speculation".

It is currently illegal to unlock devices like the iPhone. [Image Source: Engadget]

Mr. Wheeler has at least one other supporter in the FCC, regarding his unlocking views.  FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai -- a Republican serving on the FCC -- is a vocal advocate of unlocking.  While he says it's not the place of the FCC to authorize it, he urged Congress too, calling the ban ridiculous.  He remarked in an op-ed, "No one seriously believes that unlocking a cellphone to switch carriers is equivalent to piracy."

Source: ArsTechnica

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If you want to make something illegal...
By Motoman on 6/20/2013 4:24:31 PM , Rating: 5
...start with the DMCA. And the corporations who bought that law, and the judiciary that sold it to them.

RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By Reclaimer77 on 6/20/13, Rating: -1
RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By anactoraaron on 6/20/13, Rating: 0
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/20/2013 7:49:10 PM , Rating: 2

United States Presidents issue executive orders to help officers and agencies of the executive branch manage the operations within the federal government itself. Executive orders have the full force of law,[1] since issuances are typically made in pursuance of certain Acts of Congress, some of which specifically delegate to the President some degree of discretionary power (delegated legislation), or are believed to take authority from a power granted directly to the Executive by the Constitution . However, these perceived justifications cited by Presidents when authoring Executive Orders have come under criticism for exceeding executive authority; at various times throughout U.S. history, challenges to the legal validity or justification for an order have resulted in legal proceedings.

RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By phatboye on 6/21/2013 3:11:24 AM , Rating: 5
So now we are blaming the Obama administration for the DMCA?

RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By Reclaimer77 on 6/21/13, Rating: -1
By Mint on 6/22/2013 9:32:49 AM , Rating: 3
That's your evidence that Obama is responsible? God, you're a joke.

This is not a static world where everything stays constant for every president. The internet has been evolving and bandwidth keeps on getting cheaper. The first major media piracy going on was with music, because files are pretty small. The RIAA started suing individuals for distributing digital music with file sharing programs in 2003. Funny how you don't similarly blame Bush for that.

Eventually it became economical to have P2P video streaming, and now bandwidth is cheap enough to have servers stream video and cover the costs with the low revenue they get from ads (youtube was loss-leading for a long time, and they got way better ad revenue than other shady streaming sites).

Only when technology reached this point was it worthwhile for big media to fight streaming sites with the DCMA.

By euclidean on 6/24/2013 10:16:29 AM , Rating: 3
Umm....really? Where were you in 2004? When I left home for college I was very involved in the Tech world...DMCA take down requests were big then, their bigger now because more and more people are now connected to the Tech world. We didn't have the masses on their iPhones in 2004, and thus the population of those using the internet (and hence, those using the internet for personal gain, albeit sometimes illegally) was much smaller than we have today.

By ipay on 6/25/2013 10:40:19 AM , Rating: 1
Serious question... now or at anytime during your life did you have to wear a helmet to keep from hurting yourself during normal activities?

RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By Shig on 6/20/2013 5:27:55 PM , Rating: 2
Citizens United strikes again.

RE: If you want to make something illegal...
By Motoman on 6/20/2013 5:46:13 PM , Rating: 5

But keep in mind that the DMCA was passed into law in 1998 - by President Clinton.

Then it lived all through the Dubya years, and obviously is still alive today.

The number of political parties, and/or politicians, that you can trust stands right about at zero.

By superstition on 6/20/2013 10:38:32 PM , Rating: 3
We have one political party with national representation: the Plutocracy Party.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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