Monday, July 28, 2014

U.S. Senate Committee Passes Mobile Phone Unlocking Bill

On 10 July the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would once again make it legal for consumers to unlock their mobile phones and transfer them to other wireless carriers.
A 2012 ruling by the Library of Congress stated that unlocking phones violated U.S. copyright laws. The proposed legislation, called The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, would reinstate a 2010 ruling by the Librarian of Congress that said unlocking involved no copyright violation. The modified bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee promotes competition and improves consumer choice. It also directs the Library of Congress to consider whether other wireless devices, such as tablets, should be eligible for unlocking. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar mobile phone unlocking bill in February, and Leahy has been coordinating with his counterpart in the House to ensure that Congress can pass a bill in 2014.

The Library of Congress’ 2012 ruling was controversial and met with opposition from a wide range of industry observers and participants. In December 2013, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular pledged to facilitate unlocking of phones for their customers, after urging by consumer advocacy groups. With consumers and mobile operators on the side of unlocking, the Senate committee’s unanimity in passing the proposed legislation may well presage an unusual degree of concord when the bill comes before the full Senate. Phone unlocking encourages competition among mobile operators and clearly benefits consumers. The U.S. has been out of step with much of the rest of the world with this for a while now; the time has most likely come for that to end.

The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues:

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