House Passes Bill To Re-Legalize Cellphone Unlocking

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

A legislative effort to once again make it legal for consumers to unlock their cellphones without seeking their carriers’ permission is a step closer to reality after being passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

HR 1123, better known as the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, was introduced last summer by Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

On Tuesday, the full House passed the bill by a vote of 295-114. It must now be considered by the Senate.

The legislation would reverse a 2012 decision by the Librarian of Congress, who has the sole authority to interpret the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The LOC decided that consumers no longer had the right to unlock cellphones on their own, even if the consumer owned the phone outright and was no longer bound by a contract with their carrier.

That rule change went into effect in early 2013, meaning any phone purchased after January 25, 2013, required permission from a wireless carrier to be unlocked.

This resulted in a backlash from consumer advocates, consumers, legislators, and even the White House, which called for regulators to figure out a way to give consumers back the right that had been taken away from them.

Under pressure from regulators, the wireless industry announced a voluntary set of unlocking standards in December. These guidelines stated that the carriers would make the unlocking process relatively pain-free for people who owned their phones or were out of contract. It also allows for deployed military personnel to have their phones unlocked.