Ina Fried

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Bill Introduced to Re-Legalize Cellphone Unlocking

tmobile_unlockedDemocrats and Republicans may not agree on much these days. But the notion of allowing consumers to unlock their cellphones appears to have some bipartisan support.

A bill was introduced Thursday that would make it once again legal for consumers to unlock their cellphones in order to switch carriers.

Democratic senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal, along with Utah Republican Mike Lee, put forth the Wireless Consumer Choice Act, which would direct the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that the right to unlock phones is preserved. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, is making a similar move in the House.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to fear criminal charges if they want to unlock their cell phones and switch carriers,” Lee said in a statement. “Enhanced competition among wireless services is the surest way to increase consumer welfare.”

The move follows the White House decision this week to weigh in on the side of consumers’ right to unlock their cellphones, following a petition effort.

“Consumers who have purchased a mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service contract, should be able to use it on another network,” said Blumenthal. “This legislation is common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring healthy competition in the market.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has already voiced support for consumers’ right to unlock their phones, and said his agency will explore what role it can play in ensuring their right to do so.

Many carriers, including AT&T, allow customers to unlock their device once they have fulfilled the terms of their contract. However, the CTIA, a trade group representing carriers, supported the Library of Congress position that consumers shouldn’t be able to unlock the devices on their own.

Meanwhile, Sina Khanifar, who started the White House petition drive, is expanding his effort to take on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act itself — the law under which the Library of Congress determined unlocking to be illegal in the first place.

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