Unlocking Cellphones from Carriers Soon to Be Legal

Americans may soon have the freedom to unlock their cellphones from the service providers to which they are attached. The House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and the bill will go to Barack Obama for approval. Obama has already said he would pass the law. 

He complimented Congress for their passage of the bill, saying they had taken "another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cellphone carrier that meets their needs and their budget."

The bill passed in the House 295 to 114 Friday; it passed in the Senate a week and a half ago.

Laura Moy, staff attorney at advocacy group Public Knowledge, cheered the new law, saying it would "improve the availability of free and low-cost secondhand phones for consumers who cannot afford to purchase new devices," as well as encourage competition. She added, “It will keep millions of devices out of landfills."

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act had previously banned unlocking a phone, but the new law reestablishes an exemption to that Act. The new law also forces the Librarian of Congress to examine the idea of extrapolating the law to include tablets and other devices.

The bill was catalyzed by a public petition in February 2013 that called for unlocking phones; the petition easily surpassed the White House's 100,000-signature threshold that forces a response. Following that, Barack Obama asked the FCC to make unlocking legal. The FCC agreed on terms with wireless carriers last December that the carriers would unlock customers from their services, but only at the customer’s request and if the contract with the carrier had ended, according to NPR's Laura Sydell.


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