Internet users win victory in phone unlocking.

Posted in: Iowa City Owl

The Internet has been known to do some amazing things. It has tackled a multiple of social issues and miraculously halt any legislative work in its tracks. The Internet has proven itself to be a powerful tool yet it never directly jumped right into legislation until the year 2014. The realm of copyright laws have been lobbied and taken over the top by our legislation and with the power of the Internet, we are riding against them and altering the lawmaking regarding them. On August 1st, the didn’t just intervene, it made legislative history. After an online petition was sent to the President, the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” was then passed.

This is considered one of the growing points in e-activism, allowing it to flourish and influence our government’s policies. For those who feel their voices are unheard can turn to the Internet to make it heard. This is an entirely new era of e-activism that is actually capable of influencing the folks in Washington.

Ryan Kopf, an Entrepreneur in Iowa involved in websites such as this one and several others, said “The internet is the most important venue for change in this age, which I am calling the new information age.”

Previously, Congress, influenced by lobbyists of the Mobile alliance discarded a petition back in 2012 to disallow used to unlock their phones, thus minimizing competition in the mobile industry and harming the consumer.

Phone unlocking is a process required for switching your phone from provide to provider without any complications. Certain companies have cell phones that are locked, meaning they are only compatible with phone service directly from that company. By freezing phone unlocking, users are stuck with potentially bad phones and expensive service with higher costs of switching carriers.

When first getting a cellphone, consumers are often unaware of the hundreds of wireless carriers in the United States, blinded by constant ads from AT&T and Verizon. By having unlocking around, these many smaller companies are capable of standing a chance against the top names like AT&T or Virgin Mobile. It is vital for a healthy economy and mobile consumer playing field to allow phone unlocking but when The Department of Commerce approached congress about this problem, a handful of lobbyists’ won – the first time.

Since 1998 with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Librarian of Congress has obtained a hefty amount of authority on this issue. This act allows the Librarian to determine which technologies are violating strict copyright laws. Every three years, the Librarian goes through the same process and is normally bombarded by lobbyists and consumer groups concerning copyright issues.

As a result of the lobbyists’ influence, on January 24, 2013 the Librarian decided that the laws said it was illegal to unlock you cell phone. A crime punishable by a five year prison sentence and around a $500,000 fine.

Users were hurting because of this act, restricted by their carriers and locked into expensive plans. Small scale companies offering cheaper mobile solutions lost the majority of their potential clientele. The resale market was drying up completely. Companies were closing and our economy was taking a noticeable hit.

Many congressmen made attempts to contact the House Republican Study Committee, trying to explain the connection between copyright law and it’s affect on technology, both the pleasant and negative effects. There had been a ruling based on their report shortly following but we needed more voices to intervene to make a change.

Many aggravated consumers and business owners were outraged and wanted their voices heard. It all began with Sina Khanifar, the owner of a phone unlocking company who had taken a direct hit from the act, started the “We The People” petition for the White House and the signatures poured in. The White House required 100,000 signatures for a change and the public was worrisome about meeting such a high number, before then unheard of on a White House petition.

Naturally, Lobbyists were not pleased. It didn’t take long for Lobbyists and members of the Mobile Alliance to intervene and attempt to destroy the public’s efforts. Rumors and misrepresentations about the petition’s campaign were spreading like wildfire. Journalists were refusing to post the petition starter’s true story, thus painting it in a negative light for the public. Things were looking dreary.

However, that petition reached 100,000 signatures and the White House responded immediately, speaking strongly about unlocking both phones and tablets and acknowledging the detrimental effects for consumer competition. Competition is one of the pillars of commercialism, which our economy is primarily built upon. If competition were to be diminished, so is our economy. Congressmen were spreading word about this campaign on social networks left and right, exchanging support with the public and promising a change.

Things were looking optimistic with all the support but as expected, lobbyists from the an alliance of mobile phone carriers were putting up a fight through the entire process with an iron fist. This is when a fundamental flaw in e-activisism was discovered, requiring expert knowledge of legislation to make a change.

Soon experts came in with the resources needed. With the “We The People” petition, thanks to the help of Generation Opportunity, Freedomworks, and R Street, all of which were responsible for mobilizing supporters, the support for this movement was increasing rapidly. Public Knowledge, a policy interest group, communicated directly with members of congress about the matter.

Things were progressing and multiple bills were introduced to the House of Representatives. Special interests groups made revisions to the bill that corrupted everything. With the assistance of Senator Patrick Leahy, the bill was restored to its original state which both the Senate and House of Representatives gave unanimous consent for.

Following the campaign for this bill, the FCC took charge on the matter by approaching every big name carrier over the issue of phone unlocking. Every single one of them provided a consent decree. Now, carriers must allow every consumer to unlock their devices and if they interfere or rob them of that right, then by law users are allowed to unlock their phones without facing any legal complications. The competition in the mobile industry flourishes as a result.

This will remain legal until it is revisited by congress in 2015.

This truly goes to show the power the internet truly has in our government.

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