About this time last year, an small uproar was sweeping over the Internet thanks to action taken by the Library of Congress to make unlocking cell phones illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Library of Congress ruling took effect on January 26, 2013 and any cell phone purchased after that date cannot be unlocked, at least not legally. In response, an online petition was created on the White House web site and in a matter of days surpassed the 100,000 signature threshold triggering a response. President Obama responded as hoped, agreeing with the petition that consumers should have the freedom to unlock their devices.
Fast forward one year and finally legislation that Obama had promised to support has been approved by the House of Representatives. H.R. 1123, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, will restore the ability of consumers to unlock their cell phones once the original service contract expires and use them with a different carrier if they so choose. Although the bill enjoyed broad support from both sides of the political aisle, passage of the bill wasn’t without some drama and the creation of a sticking point for legislators.
The one issue that arose involved a last minute change introduced by Republicans that will not permit “bulk unlocking” of cell phones. Democrats charged this restriction will make it difficult for companies to get into the business of unlocking cell phones or even setting up a shop to cell used, unlocked devices. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) notes “many consumers won’t be unlocking their phones themselves. There needs to be a market in unlocked phones.” On the other side, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) thinks the bulk unlocking prohibition is not absolute and companies will be able to get around it.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where it could be further amended before final passage, so the bulk unlock provisions could raise their head again.