By voice vote, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have approved legislation that permits wireless subscribers to unlock their cell phones for use on competing carrier networks. Friday’s vote in favor of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (S. 517) follows on similar action in the Senate where lawmakers adopted the bill by unanimous consent on July 16. Praising House and Senate leaders for “working together to ensure the swift passage of [this] legislation,” President Obama promised to sign the measure into law. Last year, the movement to enact a cell phone unlocking mandate gained momentum as a consequence of the 2012 decision of the Librarian of Congress to remove exemptions for mobile phones from the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). (Among other things, the DMCA prohibits consumers from circumventing digital protection technologies that include technologies used to lock wireless devices onto specific carrier networks.)
This past February, House members adopted a bill (H.R. 1123) that reinstates the prior DCMA exemption and creates an expedited process to determine whether that exemption should also be applied to tablet PCs and other wireless devices. To the dismay of consumer and public interest groups, however, the House also amended that bill to maintain restrictions against bulk wireless device unlocking that wereadopted by the Library of Congress in 2010. Although the bill adoptedthis month retains most of the elements of the measure that passed theHouse in February, negotiators in the House and Senate agreed to removeprovisions pertaining to bulk device unlocking.
Applauding theHouse vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy observedthat “the bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless CompetitionAct puts consumers first, promotes competition in the wireless phonemarketplace, and encourages continued use of existing devices.” AsHouse Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) predicted thatthe bill “will protect consumer choice by allowing flexibility,” FCCCommissioner Ajit Pai proclaimed that the measure “will help the freemarket for wireless phones and services flourish.”