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This afternoon, President Obama signed into law the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. The bill allows consumers to "unlock" their cell phones so they can take a phone with them from one service provider to another. The bill passed unanimously in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The following can be attributed to Laura Moy, Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge:
"Last year, over 114,000 Americans petitioned the White House for the right to unlock their own cell phones. The White House agreed with the petitioners and supported unlocking legislation. Thanks to the joint efforts of the White House, members of the public, and Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress, today President Obama is finally able to sign unlocking legislation into law.
"Consumers expect to be able to use phones they have purchased on any network of their choice, and this bill delivers on that expectation by allowing consumers to break digital locks that artificially tie phones to a single network.
"Although carriers sometimes unlock phones voluntarily, not all carriers will unlock phones, and those who do will not unlock all phones. The new unlocking law ensures that consumers can unlock their phones even when carriers refuse.
"In addition, Congress recognized that many consumers lack the technological know-how to unlock their phones themselves, and included a provision in this law that allows consumers to enlist the help of someone else—a friend, a relative, or even a company—to help them. We expect this provision will foster the development of businesses that unlock phones for a small fee. We also expect that computer- and phone-repair businesses large and small will now add phone unlocking to their menu of services. Even Apple could take advantage of this new law and begin unlocking iPhones at the Apple Store Genius Bar.
"This law is going to make it much easier for consumers to switch from one carrier to another. As a result, competition in the wireless market will improve. In addition, there will be more free and low-cost secondhand phones available on the secondary market. And this is good for the environment, too, because every used phone that finds its way into the hands of a new owner is a used phone that doesn't end up in a landfill.
"This is also an important first step toward reforming the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the overreaching copyright law that made it difficult for consumers to unlock their phones in the first place. Rep. Zoe Lofgren has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would go beyond phone unlocking, allowing Americans to break any digital lock as long as they're not violating copyright. This could apply to consumer products that all Americans use, ranging from cars to tractors to hearing aids. We hope the House will take up the Lofgren bill soon."
Corresponding blog can be found here.