We've been waiting on this for a couple weeks now and the White House has finally come through with its response to the cell phone unlock petition. The short version, for the tl;dr crowd is simple: "The White House agrees." Citing not just smartphones but tablets as well, the Executive branch of the U.S. government states, in no uncertain terms, that there should be no reason that carriers should block a customer from switching carriers once contractual obligations are fulfilled.

The White House also pointed out that it kind of already supported this (sorta) by way of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is itself an agency of the Department of Commerce under the Executive branch. That agency sent a letter (PDF) to the Register of Copyrights when the debate was still ongoing expressing support for unlocking cell phones.

So, what happens now? Well, for starters, the administration said that the FCC "has an important role to play here." The statement didn't specifically mention what kind of role it might play, but did highlight that Chairman Genachowski has already voiced concerns over the issue (PDF). The NTIA will be joining forces with the agency to address the problem.

The statement does not mention any intention to propose new legislation or to revoke any privileges of the DMCA. The administration does admit that the current process is, to paraphrase, complete shite. A thought that, humorously enough, is shared by the Library of Congress. Both groups believe that the DMCA exemption process is no substitute for broad public policy. However, no new legislative plans were put forth today. The White House did promise to "work with Congress...to ensure our laws keep pace with changing technology", but that's about where it ends. Hopefully we'll hear more about this in the future.

The major concern about this statement, though, is the "service agreement" caveat. As stated, the White House supports phone unlocking "if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation." Well, while carrier policies are very difficult to navigate, in general you can request that your carrier unlock your phone under certain conditions. These usually include being out of contract. Additionally, the new DMCA exemption does allow older, legacy phones to be unlocked without approval.

There are a number of conditions that have to be considered here, but it's worth pointing out that, buried in an emphatically supportive statement, the administration has given the carriers some room to stand on. While under a contract, you may still be subject to whatever terms and conditions the company decides it wants you to be under. Given that a vast majority of smartphones are currently used on contract and with a subsidy, the range of impact this response can have may be severely limited.

We'll have to wait and see what the outcome of this is. It's unclear if the FCC has the authority to require carriers to provide unlocking services once a contractual obligation is fulfilled, or if carriers may be required to offer unlocked versions of all handsets if paid for in full (the latter being very unlikely). Also, this fails to deal with the much larger issue of network incompatibility, which is currently the biggest problem for interoperability within the US.

Still, the White house unilaterally supports the idea. Regardless of what authority it has to effect change or what can be done while maintaining the caveat of contract fulfillment, the President of the United States agrees with the statements put forth in the phone unlock petition. That's something.

Source: We The People

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.

  • http://twitter.com/Alankrut Alankrut Patel

    Yay!! Good job Obama Administration

  • http://twitter.com/Darkmyth_pt Darkmyth PT


    • fixxmyhead

      are obese

      • NoBullet

        Stupid ass bigot.

        • fixxmyhead

          its not my fault you're a fatass

          • primalxconvoy

            If you're anti American, surely the retort should be "lard-arse", non?

          • fixxmyhead

            i'm not. i'm an american. i just think its sad how people in this country are so obese. over 60% of americans are fat f*cks. this country takes more pills than any other country yet were the sickest people in the world.

      • SAI

        Wow, you ARE clever!

  • http://www.facebook.com/YAYSAVERGN Eric James Salcido

    Thanks Obama...

    • MeCampbell30

      I lol'ed

  • FrillArtist

    Who really cares about this unlocking fiasco? Law or no law, I will unlock my phone.

    • Greyhame

      This doesn't apply to bootloaders. This applies to the ability to take Phone X to any carrier it will work on, and for that carrier to agree to allow you to use that phone without question, as opposed to saying no for such reasons as not purchasing the phone through them.

      • Freak4Dell

        And his point is that he will do it regardless. This "law" is really nothing more than filter for slow news days. Nobody who wants to unlock their phone is going to pay any attention to this law.

  • ProductFRED

    This is a big win for consumers, at least if something gets done. Also interesting in the NTIA's PDF'd proposal is them pointing out that Secure Boot on Windows 8 computers only exists to stop you from install other operating systems. They're really fighting for the people.

  • Aaron Quevedo

    At least the Obama administration have done something right.

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

      Yes, history will remember that, under Obama's watch, a strongly worded statement concerning the legality of unlocking cell phones was written.

      And, I mean, I guess there was that whole killing Osama bin Laden thing. But mainly the phone unlock stuff.

      • Chris Caldwell

        *sarcasm on* yes, because Obama killed bin Laden. Not the massive military and intelligence efforts to do so, not the previous president who put it into works, the guy who happened to be sitting in the highest office when it happened. Thats the guy who should cash in the political and historic capital on this. Oh, but lets still blame the previous guy sending us over there.... *sarcasm off*

    • MeCampbell30

      Cool story, bro.

  • aiden9

    A lot of people saying thank you and cheering when nothing has even been done yet. Remember folks, these are the same people in the government who took unlocking your cell phone off the exception list. It is all hot air right now.

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

      Well, to be fair, no they're not the same people. They're entirely different people than the ones who chose not to renew the exemption. However, yes, it's a very good point that nothing has been done yet and, at the moment, the White House hasn't committed to any action that other organizations weren't already pursuing. This is still very much a "wait and see" situation.

  • Rodrigost23

    At least one thing that's good in Brazil. Even though we have REALLY expensive prices, we can get a phone at one carrier and, by law, unlock it for free and change carriers easily...

  • spydie

    Too much ado over nothing. Unlocking CDMA phones would be useless. And unlocking GSM phones (ATT and TMO) is just as useless if you want high speed internet (3G/4G) since they use different radios and frequencies. If you don't have a high end (smartphone), you might make use of unlocking if all you do is text and call. But if you use a phone for what it was designed, you can't jump carriers in the U.S. without buying a phone with the right radios. This would all change if they build a phone with all radios in it... but that's highly unlikely. I unlocked my ATT Galaxy S3 and my TMO Note 2 and found out how useless that was.

  • Paul

    Network incompatibility in the U.S will be less of an issue in the near-future as all carriers move toward LTE. You'll have "Quad band" LTE phones that will work on all 4 major U.S carriers networks. All 4 major carriers are committed to LTE now, data right now but voice in the near future, especially when they want to move the bands voice is operating on right now over to LTE. Gone will be AMP/TDMA/iDEN/CDMA/GSM/HSPA. Viva la LTE!

  • Tee

    Welcome to the 2010s, America!

  • Dan

    Great. Press release written, unwashed masses appeased, let's go to lunch.

  • Asphyx

    LOL When they pass a law or create a unit that lets me switch from Verizon to AT&T I'll get excited about all of this unlocked talk!

  • Chris Caldwell

    Hm.... or skip all this non-sense, buy a nexus, get an unlocked, better phone for half the price, OH and save on your cell bill to....