Late Tuesday, the Senate passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act with a unanimous vote. The bill, introduced by Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, reverses a Library of Congress decision regarding DMCA exemptions and would once again make unlocking your cellphone legal.
“I applaud the Senate for so quickly passing the bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which puts consumers first and promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace,” Leahy said. “With the Senate’s swift action last night, just days after the Judiciary Committee approved the measure, I hope the House will soon take up and pass our bill so that consumers will be able to use their existing cell phones on the wireless carrier of their choice.”
The bill also asks the Library of Congress to take a look at tablets and other wireless devices to determine if they should also get an exemption from the DMCA.
A little background on the whole cellphone unlocking issue:
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 last week.
With the unanimous decision from the Senate, the bill will travel to the House with a lot of momentum.
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