WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The top U.S.telecommunications regulator on Thursday demanded that wireless providers voluntarily agree on the rights of consumers to unlockmobile devices once contracts end, or the Federal CommunicationsCommission will make it a rule.
At issue is whether cellphone buyers, who often get newdevices at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing to long-term contracts, should be able to take their gadgetswith them when they change carriers.
The FCC and the wireless trade group CTIA have been workingfor eight months on developing a policy for the industry's Consumer Code that would address the rights of phone owners tounlock their devices.
In a letter to CTIA President Steve Largent on Thursday, FCCChairman Tom Wheeler urged the industry to adopt the new unlocking policy within weeks, before the holiday shoppingseason.
"Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industryto act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate," Wheeler said in the letter posted online.
According to Wheeler's letter, the carriers agree thatconsumers should be able to unlock their devices once their contracts are fulfilled but have not agreed to a policy ofnotifying customers when their device is eligible for unlockingor automatically unlocking the device when it becomes eligible.
"Absent the consumer's right to be informed abouteligibility, any voluntary program would be a hollow shell, "Wheeler said in his letter.
The ban on unlocking originates in the U.S. copyright lawoverseen by the Library of Congress. The White House in March responded to an online petition protesting the law and sidedwith the thousands who signed it.
Lawmakers have introduced bills for a legislative fix butconsumer advocates have urged the FCC, the agency that regulates the wireless industry, to get involved.
In a statement on Thursday, CTIA's vice president forregulatory affairs, Scott Bergmann, said the trade association would continue discussions with Wheeler and that consumers nowcan take advantage of a "wide variety" of unlocked devices and"liberal" unlocking policies.
He added that not all devices can be switched from oneprovider to another because of their technological or engineering specifications.
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- 15 Nov 2013 23:34