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Congress passes cellphone unlocking bill, Obama likely to sign it into law

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday allowing consumers to unlock mobile devices to work on a different carrier’s network. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was passed earlier this month by the Senate, leaving President Barack Obama’s signature as the last hurdle to be cleared before the bill becomes law.

Obama is almost certain to sign the bill. “The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice,” he said in a statement released on Friday. “I…look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Previously, unlocking phones in order to switch carriers could be considered a violation of federal copyright law, based on a provision in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Although that provision was designed to limit DRM cracking, it ended up applying to locked cell phones as well. In December, all four big carriers in the United States reached an agreement to make both prepaid and postpaid unlocking easier. The bill that passed the House protects those policies.

You might remember the House passing a version of this bill back in February. The ultimate version passed today is largely the same, but lacks one of the most controversial parts of the original: a short clause that prohibited unlocking “for the purpose of bulk resale.” That clause, which was intended to limit shady resellers or shops that unlock phones for a fee, was blasted by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The bill originated as a citizen petition on the White House website and is a welcome consumer protection: after all, if you buy a device on a postpaid plan, you pay for it in installments and when your contract is up you should be able to plug a different carrier’s SIM card in it if you wish. However, when it becomes law it still won’t be permanent. Unless circumstances change, the rule will be reconsidered by the Library of Congress in 2015.

9 Responses to “Congress passes cellphone unlocking bill, Obama likely to sign it into law”

  1. Linda Jackson

    Yes that’s right, I own my phone that I paid 700.00 for three years ago when my contract was up I kept my carrier, but this year I decided to changer carriers. I ask them to unlock my phone which they said no problem, then after going online jumping through hoops doing this and that, and this pass word and that MEI number and the request number and waiting
    for the next days answer I was denied unlock. Whats up with that ! Come on I met my
    commitment to them a 2 year contract paid off phone and now looking for no contract and basis price around 45.00 unlimited talk and text and data a 1 GB or 2 GB what ever. They
    ask me are you planing to leave us because we would hate to lose you what can we do to keep you, so now my 87.00 bill is a 46.00 bill. And Yea, its still locked but I have no contract so if things change I will be unlock this this phone and moving on. L.J.

    • You all still act as if you didnt know this going into it. Ive used unlocked phones for years and have bounced between 3 providers with no pain at all.

      • Dude you are a moron. This law is for the millions of people that aren’t tech savvy and don’t know enough about unlocked and locked phones to jump through the hoops that you have to now. You’re just being a pompous di#$.

  2. oncfari

    Sure, you can get an unlocked phone, but at what cost? I don’t know about where you live, but where I live (New Orleans) the carriers all make it uneconomical to pay full price for a phone, pay to unlock it, and then have to abide by all of their BS rules and fine print. This is a VERY welcome change to the rules that will cause the carriers to have to compete on the basis of price & service rather than extortion!

    • Monty Keegan

      Did you not just read the article. Its talking about if you have a phone and your contract is up and you want to switch carriers, you can do so with your phone that is locked.

    • Chris Hayes

      That’s not the point.

      I purchased a phone fully unsubsidized from Sprint more than 2 years ago. At the time an unlocked variant was not available on the market and subsequently Sprint has refused to unlock a phone I paid full price for. Additionally the terms of my contract have been fully met.

      While I own the phone Sprint currently disallows me to take it to any other carrier of my choice despite the fact it has all the necessary radio compatibility with all of the other major US carriers.

      When pushed on this issue Sprint blames it on the device manufacturer while the manufacturer has been confirmed to place no such limitations on devices at their own behest. The manufacturer is also at the mercy of the carrier to unlock a consumers device. This was fully confirmed by the office of the CEO of said device manufacturer who themselves seemed rather annoyed by Sprints policy of passing blame.

      In short this law affords consumers the right to utilize their own property as they see fit.

        • allan you are being vociferous and self righteous. and as usual with people like you, your statement is also wrong on merits (a legal term meaning hard fact of evidence as opposed to mere technicality) . This matter of law concerning cellphones has flip-flopped twice in the past 4 years and availability of unlocking resources was affected majorly. Yes it was possible to pay someone to do it illegally-and I’m not at all opposed to that because of the stupidity of that law,- but- it took away the ability for many people who are not as resourceful as others to openly shop around for a better deal because the major carriers were not in a position to help set up the sim card , set up service using your “byod”. Now the field is open again as it was a couple of years ago.