Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
July 16, 2014
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Congress is doing something! It looks like you’ll soon be able to unlock your cell phone

Changing networks would be much easier

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Here’s something you don’t hear often: Lawmakers want to make your life easier.

The Senate unanimously approved legislation late Tuesday that would make it legal for phone service providers to unlock cell phones. The House passed a similar version earlier this year.

Once finalized into law, the news would mean that cell phone owners – and that seems like just about everybody – wouldn’t have to think twice about changing networks.

Currently most contract cell phones come “locked” to a certain network, such as AT&T and Verizon. The lock makes it nearly impossible (unless a consumer watches a how-to video on YouTube) to switch a phone from one provider to another.

The U.S. Copyright Office made cell phone locking legal in 2012 when it ruled that customers must obtain their carrier’s permission to legally unlock their phones to switch to a competitor—even if they had finished their contract.

Not surprisingly, the rule was met with a big public backlash — which culminated in a White House petition with more than 114,000 signatures.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act addresses the public concerns and would overturn the copyright office’s decision.

The bill also would address potential unlocking of other electronic devices such as tablets and e-readers.

Interestingly, cell phone providers also support the bill. Due to pressure from the Federal Communications Commission, all major providers committed last year to allowing their customers to unlock their phones.

The cell phone lobbying group CTIA also backs the bills in both chambers because the legislation would at least “relieve consumer confusion.”