This should temporarily quiet those who feared that Tom Wheeler would be in the pocket of the wireless phone industry, which he used to represent. The new FCC chairman sent a letter today to CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group, saying that “enough time has passed” and it’s time for service providers to unlock their devices “voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate.” He wants a “full unlocking rights policy” to appear in the CTIA Consumer Code “before the December holiday season.” The goal is to clear the way for consumers to use any mobile phone or tablet with any service provider. FCC staff have been working with CTIA to develop a new policy. The letter says the two sides now disagree on one thing: whether service providers should notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, or simply unlock them, without a fee. “Absent the consumer’s right to be informed about unlocking eligibility, any voluntary program would be a hollow shell,” Wheeler writes.
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The FCC and CTIA already agree that providers should have a “clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on unlocking.” They also agree that companies should either process unlocking requests, or explain why they can’t, within two business days — and unlock devices for military personnel upon deployment. Consumers Union Senior Policy Counsel George Slover applauded Wheeler’s effort saying he’s eager to see “how [the] industry responds to the Chairman’s push.” Wheeler lobbied for the wireless industry from 1992 to 2004 when he was CTIA’s chief executive.