A Bill to Legalize Cell-Phone Unlocking Is Heading to Obama’s Desk

Lawmakers stripped out language that would have banned bulk unlocking.

People try the new Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system on October 11, 2010 in New York, New York. The phone, which will be available in the United States on AT&T's network, looks to compete with the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
July 25, 2014, 9:58 a.m.

The House un­an­im­ously passed le­gis­la­tion Fri­day to leg­al­ize cell-phone un­lock­ing, which would make it easi­er for con­sumers to switch pro­viders without buy­ing a new phone.

Pres­id­ent Obama is­sued a state­ment say­ing he will sign the le­gis­la­tion in­to law.

“The bill Con­gress passed today is an­oth­er step to­ward giv­ing or­din­ary Amer­ic­ans more flex­ib­il­ity and choice, so that they can find a cell phone car­ri­er that meets their needs and their budget,” he said.

The House already ap­proved a sim­il­ar bill in Feb­ru­ary, but that ver­sion in­cluded con­tro­ver­sial lan­guage to keep people from un­lock­ing phones in large batches. Con­sumer groups and many Demo­crats ral­lied against the pro­vi­sion, say­ing it un­der­mined the bill.

The Sen­ate ap­proved a ver­sion of the bill earli­er this month without the ban on bulk un­lock­ing. The House then agreed to pass the Sen­ate’s ver­sion of the bill. 

“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 said in a state­ment.

Most con­tract cell phones come “locked” to one net­work. Be­cause of a de­cision by the U.S. Copy­right Of­fice in 2012, cus­tom­ers must ob­tain their car­ri­ers’ per­mis­sion to leg­ally un­lock their phones to switch to com­pet­it­ors — even after they have com­pleted their con­tracts.

The de­cision promp­ted an im­me­di­ate pub­lic back­lash, and more than 114,000 people signed a White House pe­ti­tion in protest.

The Un­lock­ing Con­sumer Choice and Wire­less Com­pet­i­tion Act would over­turn the of­fice’s de­cision and would dir­ect the of­fice to con­sider wheth­er to al­low un­lock­ing of oth­er devices, such as tab­lets.

Con­sumer groups such as Pub­lic Know­ledge and the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion sup­port the bill, al­though they have also pushed for broad­er le­gis­la­tion that would amend the un­der­ly­ing copy­right law.

The Copy­right Of­fice is set to up­date its rules on cell-phone un­lock­ing any­way next year. 

CTIA, the lob­by­ing group for cell-phone car­ri­ers, ar­gues the is­sue is over­blown but backed the bill, say­ing it would at least “re­lieve con­sumer con­fu­sion.”

Un­der pres­sure from the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, all the ma­jor car­ri­ers already signed on to a com­mit­ment last year to al­low their cus­tom­ers to un­lock their phones. 

What We're Following See More »
HE ADMITS TO A SETTLEMENT
Pelosi Calls for Ethics Investigation of Conyers
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Rep. John Conyers, amidst reports that the Michigan Democrat settled sexual harassment charges. "My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation," Conyers admitted, after first denying any knowledge of the charges.

Source:
TO BE VOTED ON NEXT MONTH
Pai Officially Announces Intent to Scrap Net Neutrality Rules
10 hours ago
THE LATEST
SAYS HE’S UNAWARE OF ACCUSATIONS
Conyers Denies Settling Harassment Claims
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
SPEAKER SAYS IN LETTER
Mugabe Resigns, Ending Impeachment Debate
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
HAITIANS TO BE MOST AFFECTED
White House to End TPS Program
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Trump administration is ending a humanitarian program that has allowed some 59,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States since an earthquake ravaged their country in 2010, Homeland Security officials said on Monday. Haitians with what is known as Temporary Protected Status will be expected to leave the United States by July 2019 or face deportation. ... About 320,000 people now benefit from the Temporary Protected Status program, which was signed into law by President George Bush in 1990."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login