The House has unanimously passed legislation, unanimously passed last week in the Senate, that will once again make it legal for consumers to unlock their cellphones.
“With today’s House passage of the bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, this important legislation is headed to the President for his signature. This law will protect consumer choice by allowing flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless carrier.This is something that Americans have been asking for and I am pleased that we were able to work together to ensure the swift passage of legislation restoring the exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their cell phones,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a statement.
Some background on why we're having to pass new laws allowing cellphone unlocking:
In January of last year, unlocking new cellphones became illegal via a decision from the Library of Congress. In short, they reversed their decision to exempt cellphone unlocking from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (by opting not to renew the exemption). It’s still legal to unlock phones purchased before January 26th, 2013, but doing so on any device purchased after that cutoff mean you could run afoul of the DMCA.
Quickly after, a petition on the White House’s We The People site garnered 114,000 signatures. It demanded a simple task of the administration: Make Unlocking Cellphones Legal.
The White House responded – emphatically.
“The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” said Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy David Edelman. “In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”
All that was left to make it happen was for Congress to act. Senator Patrick Leahy authored the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, and it got a companion bill in the House. The House measure was passed in February and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Leahy’s bill earlier this month. Last week, the full Senate unanimously passed the bill, sending it over to the House.
And now it heads to President Obama's desk. Taking its unanimous bipartisan support and the previous statements made by The White House on the matter, the bill's signing is a virtual certainty.
“I thank the House for moving so quickly on the bill we passed in the Senate last week and for working in a bipartisan way to support consumers. The bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act puts consumers first, promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace, and encourages continued use of existing devices,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy. “Once the President signs this bill into law, consumers will be able to more easily use their existing cell phones on the wireless carrier of their choice.”
Unfortunately, the new law only restores the exemption to the DMCA that allows consumers to unlock their cellphones and change wireless providers when their contracts expire. It doesn't address the bigger problem – the DMCA itself.