On Monday the White House said that it believes consumers should be allowed to “unlock” their phones and tablets then switch wireless networks after their contracts run out without the worry that they are breaking the law.
Cell phones and other mobile devices contain special software that does not allow a smartphone user to run on a competitors system. These blocks can be removed by downloading programs available on the Internet. Removing these blocks is known as jailbreaking. Once you install the downloaded application onto your phone it 'breaks open,' and you can then modify it. Jailbreaking a device allows you to use a carrier other than the one from which you originally purchased it.
However, jailbreaking comes with a price. Once you do it, you are pretty much on your own. In almost all cases, it voids the warranty, so you can no longer count on AT&T, Verizon, or Apple to fix it. Moreover, if the process is not done correctly, it can disable your phone.
Back in January, the Library of Congress made the unlocking of these devices a violation of a copyright law. If anyone were caught doing this, they could face criminal charges and penalties. This decision sparked outrage from activists online. These activists took to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the White House's own protest forum, to gather well over 114,000 petition signatures.
The Obama Administration was listening to these raised voices and responded by stating that it would support legislation to overturn the Library of Congress’s decision. To show its sincerity, the adminstration asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene.
Blair Levin, a former FCC Chief told the Washington Post that the unlocking issue “comes at a moment when everyone in the country is looking at Washington and saying they don’t seem to get anything done. And then you get a couple smart people who are passionately against a rule that the government adopts and through blogs and a petition get the White House to respond in 60 days.”
The reason unlocking these mobile devices is illegal is due to the copyrighted software that they utilize. Right now the only way to do it legally is by contacting the wireless carrier and asking for their permission.
The Library of Congress now states that it will review its policy. In a press release they stated, "The question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy and … [the law] would benefit from review and resolution in that context.”
The FCC has put its full support behind unlocking cell phones. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers’ ability to unlock their mobile phones."
This stand to reverse legislation is a clear example of the power of the people. Activism on the Internet has been developing its voice for just over ten years. The Internet can help advance goals faster, as this situation clearly proves.
Edited by Blaise McNamee