The U.S. Senate Judiciary committee on Thursday unanimously approved revised bipartisan legislation geared toward making it easier for consumers to unlock their cell phones and take them with to a new carrier.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and their cosponsors last year brought out the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act as a response to revisions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The bill will now move to a vote from the full Senate. It allows consumers to authorize the unlocking of their devices and also recommends that the Library of Congress consider a revision of its rules.
In January 2013, the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress made unlocking a cell phone illegal in some circumstances. The move was made to help stem large-scale phone trafficking but left a chance that consumers could face penalties for unlocking their devices, ranging from fines of $2,500 to five years in prison.
More than 100,000 people signed a petition imploring the White House to make unlocking legal again, and the FCC agreed to investigate the matter.
Competitive Carrier Association (CCA) President & CEO Steven K. Berry applauded the decision. In a statement, Berry said that allowing consumers to take the device to the network of their choice is "common-sense policy," and highlighted why the new legislation is so important for the CCA member carriers.
“Unlocking is especially important for smaller rural and regional carriers who face challenges accessing the latest devices," Berry wrote. "No carrier, providing the best, most robust service in an area, should have to turn away a customer. The Committees action today is certainly a step in the right direction and we can only hope the Librarian of Congress gets the message."
CTIA, which had previously supported the Library of Congress' ban on unlocking, said in a statement that it appreciated the Judiciary Committee’s effort to strike an appropriate balance by authorizing unlocking without imposing obligations on carriers.
"We view the bill approved today as consistent with Chairman Leahy’s original proposal, which was intended to relieve consumer confusion stemming from the Copyright Office’s 2012 decision,” wrote Jot Carpenter, CTIA's head of regulatory matters, in a statement.