Business

House passes cell phone unlocking bill with a crappy last-minute amendment

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The US House of Representatives voted to approve a new bill yesterday that will finally make it legal for consumers to unlock their cell phones.

The bill, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition act, restores an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that prevented people from “unlocking” their cell phones — a process that’s necessary for people to easily switch to a different wireless carrier with their current phone. That exemption, initially issued by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, expired over a year ago.

Many people were appalled that unlocking a cell phone was deemed illegal, arguing that if you own a device, the vendor who sold it to you shouldn’t be able to restrict how you use.

While the legalization of cell phone unlocking should be a win for consumers, we’re unlikely to see a mass market for unlocked phones. Thanks to a last-minute amendment, “bulk unlocking” is excluded from the bill. That’s unfortunate because it means you won’t find businesses buying a large stock of unlocked smartphones to sell directly to consumers.

The bill will still need to pass a vote in the Senate. Hopefully, the last-minute amendment will be taken out before the bill becomes law.


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