Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have reached a bipartisan deal on legislation that would allow people to “unlock” their cellphones when changing providers. The bill, which will be considered on Thursday, would allow users to take their mobile device from one wireless network to another, and is backed by Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassle. “Consumers should be able to use their existing cell phones when they move their service to a new wireless provider,” Leahy said in a statement. “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,” he said.
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have drafted a compromise bill that will allow for the unlocking of cell phones. The “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” [PDF] wasintroduced yesterday by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). Unlocking phones to run on other networks violates the prohibition against “circumventing” copy protection schemes under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, from 2006 to 2012, the Library of Congress granted an “exemption” to copyright law that allowed for consumers to unlock their cellphones in order to change providers. They allowed that exemption to expire in 2013, however, and cell phone unlocking went back to being illegal. That spawned a fair bit of activism pushing Congress to change the rule once and for all. A citizen petition insisting that phone unlocking should be legal gained support from the White House and laterfrom the FCC. A bill moved forward in the House of Representatives, but only passed in February after it was watered down, with a section added to ban “bulk” unlocking. In other words, it would have allowed tech-savvy individuals to unlock their phones without fear of actually being prosecuted—but not allowed average Joes and Janes to actually get help in unlocking their own phones. That solution was panned by groups seeking reform.