Congresswoman To Introduce Bill To Make Cellphone Unlocking Legal Again

Just days after both the White House and the Federal Communications Commission expressed concerns about the Librarian of Congress’ decision to make it illegal for consumers to unlock their own cellphones, a U.S. Representative from California says she intends to introduce legislate to right this wrong.

“The ban on unlocking cell phones puts consumers in the back seat when it comes to choosing the mobile device and service that best suits them,” said Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo of Palo Alto in a statement. “Competition and consumer choice are equally fundamental to a vibrant mobile marketplace, which is why I intend to introduce legislation eliminating the ban on unlocking cell phones and other mobile devices.”

Eshoo is also the Ranking Member on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

In October, the Librarian of Congress, who inexplicably has sole discretion to interpret the intentions and implications of the much-maligned Digital Millennium Copyright Act, heeded the call of the wireless industry, which claimed that consumers should no longer be able to unlock phones without permission of their current carrier.

The industry argued that wireless companies now make this service readily available to customers and that there are many unlocked phones already available for purchase at a reasonable price. The Librarian also cited legal precedent that found that smartphone users don’t own the software on their devices, but merely license it per their user agreement.

And so any new phones purchased after Jan. 25, 2013, would need to be unlocked through a customer’s current wireless carrier. Unlocking a new phone on your own could result in fines and possible jail time.

On Monday, the White House responded to a petition on its website that had garnered more than 114,000 signatures in an attempt to reverse the LOC’s decision.

“[I]f you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network,” wrote R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy. “It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”

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