Obama Administration Directs FCC To Force Carriers To Unlock All Mobile Devices

Carrier lock-in has long been the bane (well, a bane) of the mobile user’s life. Being unable to switch between carriers at will because of lengthy contracts and the need to buy a new phone and throw the old, now-useless one in a ditch somewhere* even though it’s a perfectly fine piece of hardware when you opt for a different provider is frustrating and expensive.

The Obama administration is pushing for change in this regard. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has filed a petition with the FCC that would require any wireless service provider to unlock a mobile device upon request so that the device’s owner could use it with a different provider if desired--with no fee.

“By giving consumers greater freedom to choose among alternative mobile service providers and use wireless devices that they lawfully acquire from others, the proposed rule would both increase competition in the mobile services market and enhance consumer welfare,” reads the petition in part. “Consequently, its adoption would plainly promote the public interest.”

This rule change would not eliminate costs such as early termination fees, but it would allow customers to jump ship if a different carrier offers a better plan or rates. And that’s the idea here--service providers would ostensibly be in hotter competition with one another to provide better services at lower prices to keep customers.

This would also allow for a more brisk marketplace of person-to-person used smartphone swapping; for example, instead of trying to get a Verizon iPhone used, someone could just buy a used iPhone and pop over to Verizon to have them unlock it for them. The new policy would extend to tablets as well as smartphones.

(*P.S. We’re just kidding about the ditch. Don’t throw your old phone in a ditch. Please dispose of it responsibly via an electronics recycler.)