updated 04:34 pm EST, Fri March 1, 2013
Chairman unsure of what power the FCC holds over the matter
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has weighed in on the Internet response to the expiration of the exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which now bans the unauthorized consumer unlock of cell phones. Speaking to TechCrunch, Julian Genachowski said that he believes that the ban "raises competition concerns; it raises innovation concerns" and the agency would look into what they could do about the matter.
A 90-day transition period, permitting the practice after an exemption added to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was reversed in October, has run out.
The ban forces customers to either ask and likely pay carriers for unlocking services, or to buy phones that have been unlocked beforehand. Unlocking without carrier permission carries a potential penalty of up to five years in jail and a $500,000 fine.
The 100,000-signature goal on We The People requesting a White House response was met in the end of January with two days left to run, forcing the Obama administration to address the issue of unlocking being removed from the exceptions to the DMCA. We The People states that the White House will respond to petitions crossing the signature threshold "in a timely fashion," but this can be affected by the volume of petitions and the subject matter of the petition. As of yet, the White House has yet to respond.
The FCC chairman isn't certain that the agency has any authority over the DMCA, which is held by the Library of Congress. He did say that it was "something that we will look at at the FCC to see if we can and should enable consumers to use unlocked phones." No oversight hearing was held when the Library of Congress let the exception lapse in October of 2012, or when the ruling went into effect on January 26.