The President still hasn't weighed in on what he plans to do about the cell phone unlocking ban (he's been a little busy with that sequester business that's gonna cost some people their jobs), but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is a little closer to the situation. Speaking to TechCrunch, the communications head said the organization plans to "look into" the issue and decide whether action should be taken and, if so, what action there is to take.

While Genachowski doesn't sound ready to start pummeling carriers just yet (though it wouldn't be the first time), he admits that the ban is worrisome (and it is!), saying the "ban raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns."

On the subject of pursuing any course of action: "It’s something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones." Those words "can" and "should" are the two major hurdles that the FCC has to get past, though. And one is much harder than the other.

"Should" will probably be very straightforward. Genachowski has a long-standing record of being pro-consumer in regards to FCC regulation, pushing for Net Neutrality as far as his authority will allow him to. This isn't a blanket "Do you hear the people sing?!" but it's a fairly safe bet that the results of this investigation will be that the organization should do what it can to push the cause forward.

That's where the "can" comes in, though. Not only is the FCC's authority not clear on the subject of cell phone unlocking, it's really not clear in general. Over the last decade, roughly everyone has been upset that the Commission has overstepped its bounds. And I mean everyone. Comcast, the EFF, the EFF and Verizon at the same time, and even Congress. Part of the issue is that the organization was founded in 1934 to divvy up spectrum for radio transmissions and manage interstate telephone lines. No one could've foreseen how much wireless communications would've taken over.

The one thing we can count on is that if there's any legal ground to even attempt to stand on, Genachowski will try it. Whether it will be effective is a whole different story. Carriers and ISPs are rarely pleased when the FCC says what they do and don't have to allow on or over their networks. Attempting to override the DMCA without Congressional approval, especially in light of the recent ruling from the Library of Congress, will likely cause a severe backlash.

Still, the more important thing is that the FCC is taking notice. Technically the Commission is under the Executive branch of government (though somewhat independent), so its powers are limited in many of the same ways the President's are. The advantage, though, is that while the President has other things to do—like deal with a broken budget, a divided Congress, chaos in the Middle East, the ethics of drone strikes and that rapidly gray-ing hair—the FCC's main job is dealing with tech issues. It has all the time in the world to lobby for this change.

Source: TechCrunch

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • ProductFRED

    What they really meant to say was,

    "We're not sure if our corporate...sponsors (overlords) would allow us to do anything about it, so here's a generic response that'll hopefully be forgotten in the coming weeks."

    Seriously, they're spineless. If they can't do this, what's the point of their existence? To tear down upcoming devices so we can know about them on tech sites before they come out?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      I'm trying to find the word in this comment that doesn't completely misunderstand the point and authority of the FCC, despite the article above that explains all of that in detail but..I...just...can't....find it....

      The FCC isn't "spineless", it lacks authority. If you want to blame a group for being spineless towards the tech companies, look at Congress. That's the organization whose responsibility it is to direct the FCC. There is very little the FCC can do on any of these tech fronts without expressed permission from Congress. Which, ironically, has not stopped the FCC from trying in the past (seriously, I linked four different articles of the FCC doing too much).

      I'm sorry, I'm just as pissed off as you guys are that the Library decided cell phone unlocking is illegal, but these knee-jerk reactions to people who are trying to help are just getting ridiculous. Genachowski and the FCC are going to try to help. This is what people wanted when they signed that petition, right? Someone to take notice of the cause?

      Talk about biting the hand that's trying to help you unlock your damn phone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641425246 Kevin Metcalfe


      • ProductFRED

        My point is that they "lack the authority" because they choose to "lack the authority." They should speak up since they're being denied to do their jobs left and right. The FCC exists to regulate the communications industry and, at least indirectly, protect consumers through regulation. However, all they've been able to consistently do is approve electronics for use in the US.

        The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Maybe I was a bit too bold with my wording, but my general statement still stands.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

          I don't...what? Dude, you're really not getting this, are you? The FCC does not lack authority because they "choose to." As I have said twice now, they have repeatedly tried to gain more authority. They can't get more authority unless Congress votes to give it to them. And if you would read the links I pasted above, you would see that not only has the FCC received a lot of pushback when it tries to "choose to" have more authority, but in some cases, Congress has actually *removed* some authority.

          Oh, and all the FCC does is approve devices? Just because that's the only thing you read about on the front page of Engadget doesn't mean that's all they do. How about the famous blocking of Comcast's throttling of P2P transfers? That was a huge thing they fought for consumers. Oh, and you know what happened? The courts ruled they didn't have the authority: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2010/04/court-throws-out-fccs-smackdown-of-comcast-p2p-blocking/

          Or the Net Neutrality rules that the FCC has tried to put in place. Limited as they are, the FCC has still stretched the bounds of its authority to try to guide, in some way, the internet to a more open state. And, yet again, gets smacked down every time. And you think that all they have to do is *ask* to get more authority and suddenly everything will be better?

          I have now linked five stories that demonstrate that the FCC does more than just approve devices, has repeatedly tried to expand its authority to regulate wired and wireless communications, and has repeatedly been blocked from doing so because it lacks the authority to do so and no one is willing to give it to them. Please, I beg you, tell me once again how it's the FCC fault for "doing nothing."

          • HopelesslyFaithful

            BTW Eric you never responded to my comment last time but i still am baffled on your statement in the "Carrier-Unlocking Smartphones Will Be Illegal In The U.S. Tomorrow: Here's How (And If) It Affects You"

            "The 2006 ruling pointed out that the issue had little do with protecting copyright and more to do with protecting a business model (a fair point!), and the 2010 ruling merely upheld the previous exemption" If they stated before it had to do with a business model than how did they change their minds on it now?

            my statement in last article
            "So if it has nothing to do with copy rights so why the FUCK is it in the DMCA??? Shouldn't they be spending time and money to change company policy to protect themselves than lobbing to bend government to their business needs? Why the fuck should we loose any rights to protect a damn business model? If it needs government to protect it than there is something wrong with the business model...i don't care if it (the right) is so small i wont notice. A right is a right! liberty is liberty.....wtf"

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

            I moved on from the comment threads last time because I'd engaged enough and, frankly, people get too emotional to be useful over this issue.

            Here's the thing: the DMCA *is* fucked up. But unlocking cell phones is not even remotely the biggest problem with it. You *should* want your "right" to unlock cell phones back (even though there are dozens of "rights" you give up every year as parts of contractual obligations, so claiming it's a "right" doesn't magically mean it should be barred from being given up in a contract). Not because you're AMURRICAN, but because costs go down when customers are allowed to change networks because service declines. As long as 2-year contracts are a thing, unlocking cell phones won't do much, but it's still better than the alternative.

            That being said, practically speaking, you will just not generate enough interest in your problems to get enough support. The DMCA is what needs to change and people who have been screwed over a lot more than you have still haven't been able to get it changed.

            I hate to break it to you, but you lose rights to protect business models all the time. That's not what's at issue here. What's at issue is that carriers have a stranglehold over the U.S. market via a variety of methods and most of them are because of the choices of people like you and me. We can't honestly sit here and say that we hate what the carriers do, and we DEMAND our rights if we use Verizon, AT&T, or (to a lesser extent) Sprint. You want your rights back? Buy an unlocked phone, get on T-Mobile and stay there. Yes, T-Mo sucks but it's not a third world country.

            People blow this issue way out of proportion. And more than that, they hate it when someone says they're blowing it out of proportion. It's a problem, yes. It's even kind of a big deal, yes. But here's what you can and should do: use carriers that offer you the model you want, protest the DMCA as currently written (not just one tiny clause of it), and stop signing petitions to fix one tiny problem while ignoring dozens of petitions to fix the underlying cause.

            Or, you know, just keep ranting in comment threads about "liberty." But one of these will be much more effective than the other.

          • HopelesslyFaithful

            Yea i sign about everything EFF sends me...any other good places besides the EFF? Also I know there are far far worse things in the DMCA but it is getting ludicrous that they are even going beyond what is already in there to these tiny little things. Anyways, I agree with you and well said. I am currently on Sprint i am good with it due to t mobile and sprint are the only options. I have high hopes for sprint in the next couple of years since i live in Chicago land area but i do agree and tell others to hop on the two smaller carriers all the time.

        • HopelesslyFaithful

          now this more rational statement i can agree with.

          • ProductFRED

            No disrespect to the author, but I feel like people just down-vote me because he doesn't agree with me... I don't see how what I said is offensive towards the FCC or how I'm a bad person for wanting them to speak up about their lack of authority.

          • HopelesslyFaithful

            i up vote you because i can ^^