Legislators choosing populism over good policy on mobile phone unlocking

Earlier this year, many Americans were understandably angry when the Librarian of Congress came to the decision that consumers would not longer be exempt from a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) making it illegal to unlock cell phones. A grassroots effort to change the policy sprung up, more than 114,000 people signed a White House petition to voice their discontent, and politicians responded with legislation to address the issue.

Under the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 (H.R. 1892,) introduced recently by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky,) it would be legal to circumvent digital rights management locks and to develop and sell cell phone unlocking software.

The White House also came out in support of mobile phone unlocking earlier this year.

“Neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation,” wrote R. David Edelman, White House senior adviser for Internet, Innovation and Privacy.

Maybe Congress and the administration missed the memo, but the largest nationwide carriers already have very liberal unlocking policies. In fact, the three largest wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon and Sprint --all allow unlocking on the iPhone (and will even do it for you) after you’ve met the terms of your contract. Many carriers will also unlock phones for customers traveling abroad, based on their terms of service.


Wireless communications must be improved in America

Are you fed up with waiting for “bars” on your cellphone? Or waiting for a video to download even when you have a strong signal? Are you impatient with slow downloads of data? Tired of dropped calls? Exasperated by “no service available” messages?

Well, help could be on the way.


What the Senate needs to ask Tom Wheeler

The nomination of Thomas E. Wheeler, longtime president and CEO of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association, to head the Federal Communications Commission has produced predictable bursts of praise and criticism. Both sides make some valid points, but the simple truth is that we don’t know where Wheeler stands on some of the most critical issues the FCC will face in the coming years — issues that will have a huge impact on consumers.


The math on distraction argues for a shift in strategy

This week, scores of surgeons are visiting Capitol Hill, and the Auto Alliance is pleased to join them in supporting “Decide to Drive,” a campaign to help reduce distracted driving. Their timing is perfect, because we have arrived at a crucial crossroads in addressing distracted driving.
Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released guidelines for reducing distracted driving that articulate a perfectly calibrated goal -- one with which automakers agree. That goal is to get drivers to connect their phones to the integrated, built-in systems in vehicles -- systems increasingly operated by voice commands -- so drivers can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.


Restricting Lifeline program funding won't make it more efficient

If you’ve watched certain YouTube videos or heard statements from a number of Republican members during last week’s House Subcommittee hearing, you might think the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program is enabling rampant abuse of taxpayer funds by the poor to collect stockpiles of free cell phones.   

It would be wrong thinking, as the most egregious abusers of the program have been opportunistic private companies, not the vast majority of low-income households that rely on the program for discounted basic phone service.


To network the nation, go back to the future

A little less than two decades ago, in a bid to stoke competition and create more choices for consumers, Congress rewrote the law that governed telephone and cable TV communication. It was a difficult, bipartisan, multi-year effort as we weighed the advice of policy experts, listened to competitors’ concerns and looked for the best way to serve consumers. That focus and a lot of hard work created a landmark accomplishment that stimulated competition and consumer choice in the local telephone, long-distance and cable television markets.


The Marketplace Fairness Act is nothing more than a 'convenience tax'

In classic Beltway fashion, the government has introduced a bill to pick winners and losers in the marketplace with a name implying the exact opposite. The Marketplace Fairness Act, introduced by Senators Michael Enzi (R–Wyo.), Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.), would force online stores to collect sales taxes on behalf of other states, regardless of the web company’s physical location.
Under current law, states can only collect taxes from businesses that have a physical presence in the state. Buyers are supposed to track their own purchases and pay a “use tax” to their state at the end of the year. However, states rarely enforce payment of the tax, since most buyers don’t even know about this requirement.


US must impose moratorium and seek global ban on killer robots

Representatives of some of world’s most respected human rights and humanitarian organizations are gathering in London today to launch the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “We’re serious,” says the tagline of their Twitter feed, anticipating potential disbelief. 

Indeed, a future of proliferating autonomous armed robots able to chase down, select and fire on human beings is closer to reality than we might like to think.


Data Breach Report Highlights Need for Cyber Policies

This week Verizon released the 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report, its sixth comprehensive annual report of the state of cybersecurity.  The DBIR adds important factual information to the increasingly public debate over the consumer privacy, national security and economic issues around cyber crime and how to prevent it.