Earlier this year an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act expired and effectively made it illegal for consumers to unlock without explicit permission from their carriers. There was quite a bit of backlash to the decision, and after a petition to reverse the decision gained over 100,000 signatures, the White House officially issued a statement saying that consumers that have paid for a device and aren't bound to a service agreement should be free to unlock their hardware.
We haven't heard much on the matter since, but that's changing today. The Obama administration today filed a petition with the FCC asking that all carriers be required to provide unlocks for all mobile hardware. In the petition, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration requests that the FCC begins work on new rules that would place the burden of unlocking mobile hardware on the carriers and require that they provide unlocks in a consistent and swift manner. These unlocks wouldn't effect any contract that a consumer may already be in with their carrier. However, the NTIA explains that having an unlocking requirement would increase competition and consumer choice in the wireless space.
There's no guarantee yet that any FCC action will be taken as a result of this petition, but it's good to see the White House finally taking action on this issue and working to make unlocking mobile hardware easier for consumers. It's also worth noting that the petition includes the unlocking of tablets and other wireless devices in addition to phones. That's a big deal because consumers are increasingly opting for cellular-enabled tablet hardware over Wi-Fi-only models, especially with the recent rise in shared data plans and the ease with with a tablet can be added to them. There's still quite a bit of this story left to play out, but the submission of this petition is certainly a start. You can check the petition out for yourself right here.