October 30, 2014

U.S. House Passes a Bill Allowing People to Unlock Their Phones, But….

legally unlock phone

A new bill that makes it legal to unlock your smartphone at the end of your service contract has narrowly passed the U.S. House. However, some language in the bill may stifle businesses that sell unlocked phones to consumers.

This should be good news for any small business owner who’d like to continue using a smartphone they like but wants to switch to another mobile carrier.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act passed the House of Representatives by more than two-thirds majority. The bill will now move to the Senate, The Hill reports. Once law, the bill would let smartphone owners who purchased their devices after Jan. 27, 2013, legally unlock their phones. Though those owners would have to wait until their current contracts expire.

Smartphone owners could have unlocked their phones in the past legally. But that privilege expired when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was not renewed by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

The summary of the bill reads:

“This legislation allows any individual who wishes to unlock their cell phone for personal use to seek help from others without violating anti-circumvention provisions and clarifies that this bill does not permit the unlocking of cell phones for the purpose of bulk resale.”

It’s the last portion of the legislation that has some groups irate with the House. As the bill stands, a smartphone owner can go to a business and have their phone unlocked. But that business cannot unlock phones and resell them in bulk.

Sherwin Siy, the VP of Legal Affairs for the consumer watchdog group Public Knowledge said in response to the current bill:

“We’re disappointed that the House was unable to reach a compromise that would have prevented such barriers and still met the objectives of helping consumers. There is bipartisan support for such an approach to reform and we’re hopeful that the bill will be improved in the Senate.”

Previously owned unlocked phones have risen in popularity for business owners who are looking to get a smartphone without a contract. Though the initial purchase price may be high, an unlocked phone offers benefits. One of these is being able to choose your carrier and potentially switch if necessary.

The change in the current bill to add the ban on “bulk unlocking” was a last minute one. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act could be amended further in the Senate before passage.

Unlock Photo via Shutterstock

3 Comments ▼

Joshua Sophy - Staff Writer


Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering technology and business news. He is a journalist and editor with 15 years experience in media. A former newspaper reporter and editor, Joshua also serves as President of the Board of Directors of a curling club and is editor of a regional newsletter focused on the sport of curling in the Eastern U.S.

3 Reactions

  1. Now if we could just get all the carriers on the same technology…

  2. Interesting, I didn’t think unlocking was something that could be regulated. Apparently I was wrong!

  3. I wonder if this will make cell phone providers think twice about the way they offer their plans and how much they charge for the phones. I have never had an issue with it, but I am sure that there are many who do.

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