To unlock or not unlock, that is the question… well in the USA at least. The bizarre story of America’s legislators decision to make phone unlocking illegal took another twist this week when a bipartisan bill to make cellphone unlocking legal again was introduced in the Senate. Back in October 2012, the Librarian of Congress granted a 90 day window for smartphone buyers to unlock their phones, the 90 days came and went, but the confusion remained. The problems for smartphone users started with the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which was designed to curb copyright infringement in a digital age. Since then there has been various statements about how the DMCA affects smartphone unlocking and jailbreaking. Oddly the current problems only affect smartphone users, tablets it seems can be exempt, but only because there is no legal definition of a tablet yet!
Once the January deadline passed lots of groups have weighed-in with statements and comments including the FCC, which said it was going to look into the situation, and the White House which said it believes “that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties.”
So it would seem that with White House approval, Democratic senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal, along with Utah Republican Mike Lee, have submitted the Wireless Consumer Choice Act. The act is quite short and simply says that the FCC has 180 days to “direct providers of commercial mobile services and commercial mobile data services to permit the subscribers of such services, or the agent of such subscribers, to unlock any type of wireless device used to access such services.”
“Consumers shouldn’t have to fear criminal charges if they want to unlock their cell phones and switch carriers,” said Senator Lee in a statement. “Enhanced competition among wireless services is the surest way to increase consumer welfare.” Senator Richard Blumenthal added, “This legislation is common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring healthy competition in the market.”
Similar action is being taken by Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, in the House. The congresswoman says that she intends to introduce legislation eliminating the ban on unlocking cell phones and other mobile devices.