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Rules to Ease Smartphone Unlocking Sought by U.S. Adviser

An adviser to President Barack Obama asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to require wireless providers to unlock smartphones and tablets on request so they can be used with other carriers’ networks.

“Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle,” Lawrence E. Strickling, administrator of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, said in a statement today.

Such a move would supersede a ruling last year by the U.S. Library of Congress eliminating a copyright exemption that let consumers unlock new mobile phones without carrier permission.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a Washington-based trade group with members including the four largest U.S. providers -- Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. -- called locking mobile phones an essential part of the wireless industry’s business model, Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a notice last year.

Justin Cole, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment on Strickling’s request.

Mignon Clyburn, the acting FCC chairwoman, said she supports “policies that enable consumers to lawfully unlock their mobile telephones,” according to a version of her remarks prepared for delivery at a trade show in Las Vegas today.

‘Transparent Policies’

Tom Wheeler, Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman who is being considered by the Senate, in June told lawmakers that once a contract is fulfilled, “we ought to have the right to use that device and to move it across carriers or whatever as we see fit,” according to a hearing transcript.

Scott Bergmann, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory affairs, in a statement today said carriers have “transparent and competitive unlocking policies.”

CTIA and its members support legislation that would allow customers to unlock their devices without violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the trade group said in a July 25 filing with the FCC.

Strickling’s agency submitted a petition and said the request grew from a citizens’ request to the White House.

Removing a lock on a mobile device wouldn’t affect a contract a consumer has with a mobile provider, according to a statement by Strickling’s agency, which advises the president on communications policy.

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