Senators Will Push to Legalize Cell-Phone Unlocking

Following a House vote earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up legislation.

A Blackberry cell phone is seen at Fixx wireless on November 4, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
June 23, 2014, 9:54 a.m.

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will take up le­gis­la­tion this week to leg­al­ize cell-phone un­lock­ing, which would make it easi­er for con­sumers to switch pro­viders without buy­ing a new phone.

The House passed its own bill earli­er this year to leg­al­ize the prac­tice.

“Con­sumers should be able to use their ex­ist­ing cell phones when they move their ser­vice to a new wire­less pro­vider,” Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy said in a state­ment, an­noun­cing the new bill on the is­sue. “Our laws should not pro­hib­it con­sumers from car­ry­ing their cell phones to a new net­work, and we should pro­mote and pro­tect com­pet­i­tion in the wire­less mar­ket­place.”

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, the pan­el’s top Re­pub­lic­an, also an­nounced his sup­port for the bill. The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is sched­uled to be­gin con­sid­er­a­tion of the le­gis­la­tion Thursday, al­though it will likely post­pone a vote un­til the pan­el’s next meet­ing. 

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

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

Un­like the House bill, the Sen­ate le­gis­la­tion leaves out con­tro­ver­sial lan­guage to pro­hib­it people from un­lock­ing phones in large batches. The cel­lu­lar car­ri­ers had lob­bied for the House lan­guage, ar­guing it was im­port­ant to thwart “large-scale” theft op­er­a­tions. But the lan­guage caused many law­makers and ad­vocacy groups to pull their sup­port, say­ing it would cre­ate un­ne­ces­sary bar­ri­ers to switch­ing car­ri­ers.

Jot Car­penter, a lob­by­ist for the cell-phone lob­by­ing group CTIA, said he’s pleased that the Sen­ate bill will al­le­vi­ate “con­sumer con­fu­sion” without “im­pos­ing any ob­lig­a­tions on car­ri­ers.”

Chris Lewis, a lob­by­ist for the ad­vocacy group Pub­lic Know­ledge, said the Sen­ate bill is a good “com­prom­ise,” but ad­ded that he and oth­er ad­voc­ates will con­tin­ue to push for broad­er re­forms. Both the Sen­ate and House bills over­turn the Copy­right Of­fice’s de­cision, but they don’t ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing copy­right law. 

“This is an im­port­ant step that would re­store a right people pre­vi­ously had,” Lewis said.

MOST READ
What We're Following See More »
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
×