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Cellphones United States Your Rights Online

White House Petition To Make Unlocking Phones Legal Passes 100,000 Signatures 317

Posted by timothy
from the one-view-of-freedom-of-choice dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A White House petition to make unlocking cell phones legal again has passed the 100,000 signature mark. Passing the milestone means the U.S. government has to issue an official response. On January 26th, unlocking a cell phone that is under contract became illegal in the U.S. Just before that went into effect, a petition was started at whitehouse.gov to have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision. 'It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full. The Librarian noted that carriers are offering more unlocked phones at present, but the great majority of phones sold are still locked.'"
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White House Petition To Make Unlocking Phones Legal Passes 100,000 Signatures

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  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:50AM (#42967571) Homepage Journal

    The Obama administration, no matter how many accusations regarding some sort of "Socialism" get lobbed at it, is a *corporatist* White House. It's only slightly less corporatist than the Bush Jr and Clinton admins.

    Nothing will happen. The corporate cheerleaders and know nothings thinks this somehow protects corporations from the great unwashed.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:00PM (#42967721) Homepage

    Why is the government protecting a business model that is based on selling equipment at a loss?

    In business, it's called a loss leader.

    But don't worry, they'll more than make up for it with the price gouging which takes place over the term of your contract.

    But, really, this comes down to "do I own the phone or does the phone company". If I own it, I should be able to do anything I want with it. If I don't own it, WTF am I doing paying for it?

    Right now companies want to have this mixed model where I pay for it, but they tell me what I can and can't do with it.

  • by F34nor (321515) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:01PM (#42967741)

    It is always cheaper to buy a congressman than to be a better business. Telcos are oligopolies; the worst form of business for the consumers. From that basic cluster fuck all other pain flows.

  • Official Response (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:03PM (#42967775)

    And the official response will be: "We'll do whatever we want. We don't work for you." Just like all the rest of these petitions.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:06PM (#42967817)
    Is anyone tracking how many of these petitions result in actual policy change? It seems most get a canned response explaining the Administration's position. I don't recall any responses that said, "that's a good idea, we'll go do it" or "we've added that to our legislative agenda."
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:06PM (#42967821)

    No, what we have now is:

    You go to buy a phone
    Carrier offers you the unlocked version for $600 or the 2-year contract version for $150
    You buy the $150 model
    For the next two years you bitch and moan because you can't unlock the phone and switch carriers.

  • Re:Option 3 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Type44Q (1233630) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:10PM (#42967869)

    Give the spectrum the carriers have to the people

    We already own it - not that that's stopping these sociopathic parasites and their paid liars in Congress from renting it back to us at top dollar...

  • Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:12PM (#42967897)

    Seriously, Obama talks a great game about a transparent government by the people, for the people.

    But from what I can tell, the petition website is, at best, a case of him failing to follow through on his aspirations. At worst, it's meant to give the American public a false sense of being listened to.

  • Pointless? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:15PM (#42967965)

    Have any petitions posted on http://petitions.whitehouse.gov ever resulted in legislation/legal/governmental changes?

    I've seen the site posted a few times on /. but always discarded it as some pointless area for people to vent or make entertaining posts to. Making some White House PR group respond to a petition is one thing but does anything useful actually happen after a significant response? I'm asking earnestly because I honestly haven't followed it.

    If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

    I interpret that as: White House PR staff will read it, pass it along to someone that understands the issue and can put together a B.S. response, said PR staff polish the response off, respond, pat everyone on the back because nothing is going to result from the petition, and send the petitioners on their way.

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:20PM (#42968043)

    Sure, but just to make sure we're clear on this point, when I sign that two-year contract, I actually bought the phone. I'm required to pay sales tax on the full, unsubsidized price of the phone up front. And if I bought the phone, I should be free to use it how I want. The contract is in place to make sure I don't jump carriers without adequately compensating my current one, and it already suffices. Why we need to add an additional technological roadblock that increases friction between switching carriers is beyond me.

    Actually, no, it's not. What the carriers want is to increase friction so that they can lock you in even after your contract is up, so it's no surprise things are this way. But the government stepped in a few years back to help ensure that phone numbers can be transferred between carriers, and they need to do the same here, ensuring that phones themselves can be transferred between carriers, barring any legitimate technological limitations.

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw&yahoo,com> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:21PM (#42968059) Journal

    Because state-run monopolies are famous for low prices, excellent customer service, and being at the forefront of technological advance.

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:23PM (#42968091)

    This petition is for cheapskates who want to buy subsidized phones, but not fulfill their contract.

    There are already mechanisms to penalize people who do not fulfill contracts. So not unlocking a cell phone for that reason is unnecessary.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:25PM (#42968131)

    I still don't see why a phone on contract should be locked. In the UK I could buy a subsidised phone with a contract and move it between carriers as much as I want. Of course I would still be under my contract with the original carrier and have to keep up those payments (or pay an early cancellation fee) regardless of what I do with the phone.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:35PM (#42968261)
    Except that you did not take out a loan to buy your phone. You bought it at the price the carrier offered. The law says you cannot unlock the phone regardless of your contract, even when your contract expires, even if you pay the carrier the extra fee to cancel the contract, even if the carrier goes out of business. Stop trying to pretend that people are being offered a fair deal here; a fair deal is one in which you can buy something and do whatever you want with it.
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:43PM (#42968419) Homepage

    Yeah, sure, unless the government doesn't like you, then it's called dumping.

    Yeah, but that's only if you're undercutting your competition.

    Since the carriers are all doing the same thing, it's more like collusion.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:50PM (#42968517) Homepage Journal

    What this petition is doing is asking the White House to get Congress to repeal a law they passed to make the act illegal.

    Except, this isn't a law Congress passed - it's a mandate from the Librarian of Congress, who is not an elected legislator.

    Hey, maybe that's what we need to make illegal: unelected bureaucrats creating laws by proxy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:58PM (#42968661)

    The problem is that for all carriers sans T-Mobile, the person who pays the premium for the unlocked phone still has to pay out their ass in the plan costs which are designed to recoup money lost from subsidizing phones by grossly inflating the price.

    Once all of the carriers start offering cheaper plans for people who buy their phones outright, then I'll be satisfied.

  • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:02PM (#42968727)

    In business, it's called a loss leader.

    Yeah, sure, unless the government doesn't like you, then it's called dumping.

    It's not that arbitrary. It's only dumping if you're not profiting from it. If I sell a bunch of stuff below cost and lose money in process which can only be recovered by raising my prices back up once my competitor is out of business...that's dumping. If I sell something below cost, but that strategy is causing me to actually profit more because it encourages the customers to buy something else from me, that's a loss leader. In the case of the mobile providers, they're causing you to buy into an overpriced contract. The subsidized phones are completely worth it to them.

    I don't have a problem with the subsidized phone model. I have a problem with the locked phone model. The contract is already keeping the customer with them for an agreed period of time. If they choose to leave earlier, they'd have to pay a contract cancellation fee in which the provider can recoup the cost of the phone subsidy. There's no valid justification for them to have any control over the hardware once I've purchased it.

  • by HCase (533294) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:02PM (#42968731)

    This is a good question, this is an unusual situation and people seem somewhat confused as to who has done what.

    It was decided years ago that cell phone unlocking was illegal under the DMCA. But, as part of the DMCA, there are reviews done by the Librarian of Congress that grant temporary DMCA exemptions for certain activities. Previously, one of the exemptions that the Librarian had granted was to allow people to unlock phones. Unfortunately, the exemption was not extended this year, so legality defaults to the DMCA. The DMCA says no unlocking without permission.

    The primary action the petition is for the White House to ask the Librarian review the decision to end the phone unlocking exemption. If this does not work, then the petition asks the White House to push for a bill that would declare unlocking to be legal.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:06PM (#42968793)
    ...and AT&T is the only company that is legally allowed to do that. If I unlocked your phone, it would be a crime. If I told you how to do it, that would be a crime too. No matter how you slice it, AT&T and the other carriers are getting a special, privileged position in the market because of this law (which is what the petition is all about).
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:16PM (#42968963) Homepage Journal

    Therefore, even if you purchase a locked phone, after the contract is up it would be fair to allow it to be unlocked.

    There is no reason why it is fair to have to wait for the contract to be up. The phones should be unlocked automatically by law once you pass the point where you can no longer return the phone for a refund. You are financially obligated to pay for that phone from the moment they get it. They have the right to sue for a judgment against you from the moment you sign the contract and fail to make a payment. You own that phone, and in exchange you agree to give money. If you do not give the money, why does that give them the right to keep your phone locked? It only reasonably gives them the right to seek return of the phone (for a refund, of course) or a judgment against you for the value of the phone, at which point you own the phone outright and they should be forced to unlock it. In exchange for the phone, they own a judgment against you.

  • /facepalm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:18PM (#42969001) Journal

    What sort of consensual delusion is it that makes people continue to believe the "Whitehouse Petitions" mean SHIT?

    Yes, Derek Khanna just mentioned it. Hooray. They hit 100k signatures.

    But please: point to a SINGLE THING that the stupid "petition" website has started, stopped, or otherwise changed?*

    *except to prompt some White House drone to hit the button 'generate response email': "Thank you for your interest in (issue). Please be assured that the (current president) administration takes your concern, and those of your other petitioners very seriously. President (current president) has reviewed the situation regarding (issue) closely with a team of experts and while you raise important concerns, feels that we should continue on the current policy course. Once again, thanks for your concern, (current president) appreciates your engagement on (issue)."

    Phht, and people say that religion is dying. If this isn't a demonstration of naked, unsupported faith, I'm not sure what is.

  • by TheSpoom (715771) <{ten.00mrebu} {ta} {todhsals}> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:28PM (#42969163) Homepage Journal

    I fully expect to see a response written by the CEO of Verizon.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:41PM (#42969365)
    But that is covered by the contract itself. If you don`t fulfill the conditions you pay a fine. There is no logic argument to allow carriers to lock the equipment they sold you. In my country, Brazil, for example it is forbidden to sell locked devices.
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:46PM (#42969457) Homepage Journal

    People should examine how DMCA is involved at all, or why an exemption is needed.

    Even if you take a hopelessly naive view of the purpose of DMCA's circumvention prohibition, even if you think it's a good idea to use force against everyone in order to address the 0.0001% case where someone accesses a movie for infringing purposes -- this scenario is still abuse of that law, roughly comparable to the Lexmark ink cartridge case.

    On an optical disc containing an encrypted movie, the "work" whose access is limited by a technological measure, is the movie.

    On a printer ink cartridge, or a mobile phone, the "work" whose access is limited by a technological measure, is ... hey, waitaminute! It's some kind of weird normally-not-copyrightable thing. Ink, really? Access to a network?! Even if you put all cynicism aside and read DMCA at face value, are you telling me Congress passed that law, for the purpose of granting vertical monopolies to product-tie terminals to networks?! Even if you get more realistic and say DMCA was to product-tie content with players, that purpose still doesn't apply to the phone situation.

    The LoC's decision to not exempt phones, was purely malignant and indefensible. But even so, an exemption isn't enough of a correction. DMCA needs to be fixed so that it at least stops being so broad that it's applicable to the phone situation. Propose that to Congress, Mr. President. (Better yet, just toss the circumvention-prohibition crap altogether; if you do that, then everyone (consumers and also copyright holders) will win. But maybe learning the lessons of the last 15 years, is too much to expect this time around.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:59PM (#42969569)
    Cell companies already are what we fear a government ran cell service may become. Once you've hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. The only companies worse than cell companies are incumbent ISPs. Nothing like paying 5x the price for 1/10th the service and crappy support. I would like to see a government be that bad. Most government waste is of by factors, not magnitudes.
  • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @02:20PM (#42969865) Journal

    No, he's being very transparent about how government works. What better sign of how government will ignore petitions than to setup an official web site to collect them just to ignore them? As for "by the people, for the people", you're just not one of "the people" [that matter] unless you have money and political connections--or can be used for political gain.

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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