Wireless carriers are a major step closer to using unlicensed spectrum to ease network congestion and boost speeds following the FCC’s authorization of the first LTE-Unlicensed (“LTE-U”) devices on February 22, 2017.  LTE-U technology allows carriers to deliver mobile traffic over unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band already occupied by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other technologies.  The recipients of the equipment authorizations are Ericsson and Nokia.  The certifications by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) mean that the devices in question satisfy the technical criteria of the FCC designed to prevent harmful interference to radio communications services.  Those rules stipulate that unlicensed devices must accept any harmful interference they receive from any source.  Unlicensed devices have been certified for decades.  The announcement of the certifications of the LTE-U devices represents an important milestone in the FCC’s recent focus on spectrum sharing and broadband deployment because these devices are specifically designed to support broadband and work in an integrated fashion with commercial mobile broadband providers’ networks.  In short, this is not just a pumped up version of Wi-Fi offload, which carriers have used for years to relieve congestion on mobile networks.  These devices mean that the hundreds of megahertz of 5 GHz spectrum that the cable and unlicensed communities fought for years to gain access to – the so-called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) bands – will now be available for LTE technologies.

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World Global ConnectionsImagine boarding a cross-country flight and finding yourself next to someone who will be talking on his or her cell phone for the next three hours. Would it make a difference if you knew ahead of time that the flight allowed voice calls?  This scenario is exactly what the Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing.

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Federal law prohibits the circumvention of technological measures used by or on behalf of copyright owners to protect their works. In the context of mobile handsets, although users previously enjoyed a limited exemption from this prohibition, a new ruling means that users no longer can use self-help to unlock their mobile phone and move it to an alternative network.

Periodically, through a rulemaking process, the Copyright Office (the “Agency”) takes comments and evaluates whether the prohibition on circumvention measures adversely impacts the ability to use the works in a non-infringing manner. Recommendations are made by the Agency to the Librarian of Congress, who then establishes exemptions to the access control circumvention prohibition by rule. This time around, the rule did not continue the exemption for unlocking mobile devices.

So what happened?


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