The specific question, by Gruman's reckoning, wasn't over whether a user who wants to break his or her contract with a carrier should have to pay that carrier to recoup the cost of a subsidized phone. The real issue with the Library of Congress's rules is that they made it excessively difficult for a user to get a carrier to unlock his or her phone for international roaming:
You have to call and ask them to unlock the phone for such use, which can take several weeks -- and let them say no. Some carriers require you to have a contract for several months before you can get your phone unlocked for roaming abroad. These are silly impediments -- all phones should be unlocked at the outset for international roaming.
The second problem is a trust issue: Until the LOC's ruling went into effect last month, U.S. carriers had been accommodating of international unlocks because the LOC said they had to. Critics of the rule, including the original author of the petition, Sina Khanifar, were concerned that the carriers would use the LOC ruling as an opportunity to revert to greedy behavior and make it even more difficult to legally unlock their phones for legitimate international use. (There was a time when carriers charged users $1.50 or more per minute for "roaming fees," a much more lucrative alternative to letting a user install a $20 SIM for international use.)
According to Edelman, the White House supports a range of approaches to addressing the issues raised by the LOC's ruling. They include making "narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: Neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation." He noted that the NTIA will "formally engage" with the FCC to work on the issue.
Finally, Edelman said the Obama administration "would encourage mobile providers to consider what steps they as businesses can take to ensure that their customers can fully reap the benefits and features they expect when purchasing their devices."
In a statement, Khanifar greeted the White House statement with optimism:
This is a big victory for consumers, and I'm glad to have played a part in it.... The White House just showed that they really do listen, and that they're willing to take action. While I think this is wonderful, I think the real culprit here is Section 1201 of the DMCA, the controversial "anti-circumvention provision."
Khanifar said that he has discussed the idea of amending or removing the provision with the White House and promised news on the campaign tomorrow.
This story, "Obama administration declares that it's time to legalize cell phone unlocking," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.