Senate passes bill allowing you to unlock your phone

The bill makes it legal for customers to take used phones to a new carrier after contract is up

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
July 16, 2014
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Since I've been with AT&T for around a decade now, I've never had to deal with switching carriers, thankfully. If I wanted to, though, I kind of figured that I could just take my iPhone to Verizon, or wherever, and they would put me on a new plan with a new contract. I mean, I know that they want to sell new phones, but it's not like AT&T made my iPhone. In fact, Verizon sells the exact same one. So, there’s no problem, right?

Wrong. In actuality, it would have been a lot more complicated than that. Because, like, of course it would be. Turns out that cell phone "unlocking" was actually illegal. Again, of course it was.

Now there's some good news: it may not be for much longer, as the United States Senate passed the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act" on Tuesday, according to a report from The Hill.

The act would put back in place an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that had existed from 2006 until 2012, which allowed consumers to take their phones, after their contracts expired, and have them unlocked by a different carrier.

The bill, which was introduced by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, passed the Senate through a unanimous consent agreement and it now is heading to the House of Representatives, who passed a similar bill earlier this year. That bill came under some scrutiny, though, because it prohibited the practice of bulk unlocking of devices so they could be resold. 

Once the two Houses of Congress can hammer out a bill, it will be sent to the White House for passage. It seems likely that it will be signed into law, given than the President even petitioned the FCC to  end the practice.

And it's not only the government that wants this: more than 114,000 people signed a petition on the White House website to oppose their cell phones being locked. 

By now you're probably asking why cell phone unlocking was ever illegal in the first place. It is because the DMCA, which was passed in 1998, said that cell phone software was protected under copyright law, and that unlocking a phone would be a violation.

Leahy is aware that the DMCA law still exists, and says that the Senate bill takes copyright protection into account by allowing consumers unlock their phone, while also protecting the rights of the technology companies to protect the rights to their software.

The President wants this to happen. Congress wants this to happen. The people want this to happen. Can we please get this done?

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