FCC Chairman Wheeler Gives CTIA Ultimatum: Unlock By December Or We Regulate

on November 16 2013 9:49 AM

Ten days on the job, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is already pushing for big changes. In a letter sent Thursday, Wheeler asked the CTIA - The Wireless Association to amend its policies on unlocking consumer-owned devices, citing “consumers' rights to unlock their mobile wireless devices once their contracts are fulfilled.” Wheeler has given the CTIA until December to amend any current policy or else it steps in, threatening to regulate. 

The FCC and CTIA have been in discussion for months about this unlocking issue, agreeing on most of the FCC’s five requests, but the CTIA is resistant when it comes to one requirement: “Affirmatively notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking and/or automatically unlock devices when eligible, without an additional fee.” Whether the CTIA is stalling because they don’t want to notify customers of eligibility, or if it’s because they are only willing to do so if they can charge a fee, is unclear. 

Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs for the CTIA, said in a statement Friday the CTIA still wants to work with the Wheeler and the FCC going forward, but tacitly defends its position. “We look forward to continuing discussions under Chairman Wheeler’s leadership and to ensuring consumers continue to benefit from the world-leading range of competitive devices and offerings. Today’s U.S. consumers have a wide variety of unlocked device and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them.”

Bergmann goes on to endorse a bill working its way through the House of Representatives. “CTIA also continues to advocate for the passage of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (H.R. 1123), which would address consumer confusion about unlocking as a result of the 2012 decision of the librarian of Congress. While CTIA supports giving consumers a robust set of options, it is important for consumers to note that an unlocked phone doesn’t necessarily mean an interoperable phone, given the technological and engineering realities of wireless networks.” The bill referenced would make it legal again for customers to jailbreak their phones, which the Library of Congress ruled illegal in January 2013.  

Wheeler clearly lays out his position and looks for decisive action from the CTIA. “We are anxious to work with you and your members to resolve this matter expeditiously. Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate.”

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