Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Cellphone ‘Unlocking’ Bill Now Just Needs the President’s Signature

As House lawmakers left town for the weekend, they sent the president a bill that would again let cellphone users “unlock” their devices to switch wireless carriers without violating copyright law.

The bill has been moving quickly recently, with the Senate Judiciary Committee approving the bill earlier this month and the Senate passing it just last week.

According to CQ Roll Call’s Joanna Anderson, the bill would make it legal for consumers to remove software that keeps cellphones exclusive to service providers.

From Technocrat’s previous coverage after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill:

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act outlaws circumvention of access controls. The Librarian of Congress provides exemptions and has done so in the past for cellphone unlocking, but didn’t do so in 2012.

Anderson writes that the Senate committee incorporated changes as part of a bipartisan deal. Back in February, the House passed its own bill. The bills are similar, according to Anderson, but the Senate bill does not include language explicitly blocking bulk unlocking.

The bill would basically reinstate the previous exemption that the Librarian of Congress provided back in 2010, but according to a summary of the bill, the exemption isn’t permanent: “The exemption created by the bill will remain in effect until the Library of Congress conducts its next triennial rulemaking and reaches a new decision on whether or not the record supports such an exemption.”

The last rulemaking was in 2012, so the next one would likely be in 2015.

On Friday, top lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary committees praised the House’s move.

“This law will protect consumer choice by allowing flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless carrier,” said House Judiciary Committee chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. “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 cellphones.”

In a statement, Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, said the House’s action “moves us close to alleviating any confusion” from the 2012 decision, but also noted that the group’s members already agreed to voluntary principles.

“At the same time, it is important to note that CTIA’s members already committed to a set of voluntary principles that enable consumers interested in unlocking their devices to do so,” he said.  “Nonetheless, we greatly appreciate the care that Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte took in crafting their legislation and avoiding the imposition of any new regulatory obligations on wireless providers.”

  • Vasudevan Viswanathan

    This is a good initiative. In the name of copyrights, undue enrichment is happening!

  • thomas cheenath

    this facility should be extended to all users as it is the need of the season

  • K Joshi

    This is the main reason I do not buy I-Phone.

  • ginopunsalan

    It will make it legal but will carriers unlock it for you? We all know it’s next to impossible to crack iOS.

  • jojoandrada

    Tama lang yan.

  • K Joshi

    When you buy a car, is car manufacturer going to dictate what gas to put in? What road to drive on? Once I pay for it, I am the sole owner of anything and everything.

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