The Push for Unlocked Mobile Devices in the US Takes An Environmental Twist
The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act which would decriminalize unlocking your handset was approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill will now move to the house floor and an uncertain future.
While unlocking a mobile handset is legal everywhere in the world other than the United States, opposition is lining up along the expected lines, namely “Big Copyright” a consortium made up of the movie and music industry and manufacturers, who as more and more devices include software, are pressing owners of their products to use factory authorized settings, even going so far as to sue those who repair their devices for copyright infringement declaring the entry of a password to enter diagnostics is an allegedly unauthorized reproduction of their intellectual property.
Environmentalists have recently entered the fray on the side of unlocking these devices as over one billion cell-phones are manufactured each year, and the environmental impact from the mining the rare metals, consumption of power and massive pollution from discarded older phones becomes noteworthy. From the reported 165 pounds of raw material to the vast majority of the power associated with a given device being consumed in its manufacture, not in its use – even electronics recyclers have already started mass-shredding functional phones from the United States because they can’t resell them internationally, and E-waste is a well known toxic pollutant with long term repercussions on the global environment.
Currently, 65% of all cell phones collected in the U.S. are refurbished or repaired, then resold. The catch is that those refurbishing the devices must unlock them in order to put them back on the market again, which involves breaking the existing law. Pro-copyright interests have argued that the ban protects their intellectual property, but legal unlocking gives consumers the ability to shop for the best service for their needs once they’ve satisfied the terms of their purchase contract with their carrier. The unlocking lobby argues that picking the digital lock that was placed on the phone doesn’t steal intellectual property, it’s making a modification to a product that is already owned outright by the consumer at that point.
Even AT&T and Verizon’s lobbying group, the CTIA, has thrown in the towel on this issue and issued a letter in favor of legal unlocking to the Judiciary Committee. If this phone unlocking legislation actually resolves the issue, legalizing phone portability may very well have a comparable impact to the earlier move by Congress mandating cell phone number portability, which was fought by the industry until its passage in 2003, and which finally freed consumers to keep their phone numbers if the decided to switch carriers.
Fostered by the collaborative sharing of knowledge made possible by the internet, more and more people are becoming tinkerers and the DIY cottage economy is better for it. Imagine where computers would be today if PC owners were not allowed to load unauthorized software on their own machines, modify hardware or alter their own computers under penalty of law after purchasing them.
As technology continues to evolve, the convergence of environmental impact, intellectual property rights and economics will continue to be a source of friction that stalls innovation and holds back consumer choice. NationalNet has focused considerable resources in terms of design and implementation to reduce our own environmental footprint by reducing power consumption. We also recycle older servers and hard drives rather than just tossing them in a dumpster. Finally, we are always seeking the most innovative ways to provide the best quality service for our clients using dedicated servers and fully managed hosting options that put customer choice at the top of our priority list.