Wireless Tech & The LAW

The FCC was placed in charge of radio signal broadcasting in 1934. It took over the duties of the Federal Radio Commission that licensed radio stations and that commission dated from 1927. Title II of the Communications Act, 1934, was based on concepts from taken from regulations regarding railroads…

Evil Clown Mask detail

Evil Clown

That the FCC controls the technical side of communication is not all bad. Without some measure of control we would have people pushing their signals into our TV’s and radios. Or frequencies would be so congested we would never get a clean signal. So, it is not all bad. 

The down side is because it is a government agency and it controls what is said in communications. Also the FCC previously immune to partisan politics is now, from numerous indications, caving to Whitehouse directives. We have seen this administration destroy the independence of agency after agency. So, while the FCC is supposed to be a politically independent agency its refusal to allow American citizens to see proposed rule changes. Rumor is this is at the Whitehouse’s direction which is also rumored to have had a heavy hand in preparing the rules. If this turns out to be true it pretty much shows the FCC has lost its independence.

We can learn what the coming Net Neutrality laws may do to our use of the Internet by looking at the battle we are fighting over our right to use electronic devices as we choose. The most recent battle has been between customers/users of cell phones verses the communication networks and manufacturers.

If you are not a serious geek, you may not know it is illegal to unlock or root your electronic communication devices. You may not even know what that unlock, root, or jailbreak your phone means.

To understand unlocking/rooting you need to understand that cell phones are computers. As the owner of a desktop or laptop computer you have administrative (root) control over the entire device. You can do anything you want with it. It is your property to do with as you please. You paid for it, it is yours.

Computer merchants have learned they can get paid to install software on new computers. The software then entices users to buy additional products, at least it puts the ads there. Some preinstalled software just gives merchants an avenue for delivering ads and installing additional software in the future at merchants’ whim. But, you can remove all that junk.

Citizen backlash to companies installing software after purchase without the owner’s permission resulted in Computer Trespass laws. The result of those laws is the convoluted end user licensing agreements and deceitful software installation programs we see today. For instance if you install or update JAVA you must be careful or your browser will become an Ask.com slave. This mass of confusion has made it almost impossible to successfully prosecute for computer trespass when merchants install software we don’t want. We have to navigate complex end user agreements and deceptive  install screens.

When merchants started putting smart phones on the market they had learned from mistakes in the computer world. They retained administrative rights to the phone-computer and gave that right to their selves in the sales agreement and service providers extended that right to their companies in the service agreements. Without admin/root control we could not remove their software. We lost control of our devices.

The result is I have Samsung and AT&T software in my phone that I cannot remove and must repeatedly disable. Nor could I take a ‘reduced purchase price’ AT&T phone to another network, like Verizon. They had legally and physically locked me way from controlling a device I purchased. That changed a small bit in 2014.

They did not lock up just the discounted phones. They basically locked up all the phones connected to their system or that they manufactured.

By 2013 people were writing to enough members of the legislatures that enough politicians decided they better, at least try to, appear to be on the side of the people such that ‘Cellphone Unlocking’ became a popular idea for a law. In 2014 the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (or UCCWCA ) (H.R. 1123) was passed by Congress and signed by Obama. Yay! We are free to use our devices. No… not really.

The UCCWCA is the result of AT&T and Verizon’s $12+ million lobbying effort. The law makes it legal for individuals to unlock phones one at a time. It prevents an entire resale market for unlocked phones by large refurbishers that need to unlock phones, thus keeping prices artificially high. It also keeps it illegal for anyone to make tools or provide services that help individuals unlock their phones/devices. And the law only addresses phones, not tablets or most other devices.

What we see in the communications world of phones is deceit, political and corporate agendas, and a loss of freedom for citizens. We pay to be advertised to and kept from using our property as we choose by law.

In a free market someone would be selling phones and phone services that would let me do as I please. That would stop all this ridiculous trampling of our freedoms. Consumers could vote with dollars by selecting the products and services they prefer and never have to complete with lobbyists dollars.

With the coming Net Neutrality the Internet is coming under government control likely similar to the controls on our phones. We can expect history to repeat. Because the Internet is such an amazing tool for political freedom we can expect politicians to take a much greater interest in controlling it. This is there doorway.

The UCCWCA is considered a step forward in consumer rights. But, we actually had all the rights the law supposedly provides and more before government got involved and took them away. Look at the difference between what we can do with our personal computers and phones.

The DMCA Copyright Law is a major part of the reason we lost these rights. The Copyright & Trademark Office decided unlocking phones was illegal in 2012. Not Congress, not the people, but a government bureaucracy.  How did they get to be in charge?

UCCWCA is a political grandstanding photo opt law that does almost nothing and depending on what you want to do actually makes things worse. It does nothing to correct Copyright Law or inhibit the C&T Office from reinstating a ban on unlocking.

I seriously doubt the Net Neutrality we get will be anything like what the proponents of it have been saying it will be. Did you contact your Congressional representatives?

Sources: Wired, National Journal, Electronic Frontier Foundation

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