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Senate passes bill to fully legalize cellphone unlocking in the U.S.

July 16, 2014
unlocked-phone (1)

Early last year an exemption in the DMCA expired, essentially making cellphone unlocking illegal in the United States without written consent from the service provider the phone was locked to. While most major carriers will indeed unlock phones at request as long as the contract tied to the device is expired, the terms (and fees) involved with the process is often unclear for many consumers.

Since unlocking became illegal, we’ve written various articles about how members of the Senate, House of Reps, White House and even the FCC have been looking to solve the problem, though up until now the issue has largely gone unaddressed. This may soon change, as the Senate has now unanimously approved the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

The proposed bill basically makes it possible for anyone to unlock their phone for use on another compatible carrier, provided that they either purchased the phone outright or their contractual obligation has been met in full. Unlike the current situation, this change in law suggests that carriers will be obligated to unlock your phone if you ask without any fees and that you’ll also be able to use third party services (or another carrier) to unlock your device if you so choose.

So what’s next? The House passed a similar bill recently, but its version banned people from unlocking in large batches — something the senate’s version allows. The Senate and House will now need to work together to present one single bill. Once this happens, the bill will be sent to the White House where it will more than likely be passed into law without further issue.