Congress Approves Unlocking of Phones

A new bill passed by the U.S. Congress will make it easier to switch carriers without switching phones.

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. The same measure was approved last week in the Senate

The Act now awaits the signature of President Barack Obama who has promised to sign it.

The measure legalizes the unlocking of cellular phones to allow them to be used with another service provider. The new legislation will not allow you to break a current contract, but consumers who do not have a contract can now legally switch their network to whomever and whenever they want.

However, some wonder why it was illegal to unlock the phones previously. That is thanks to a small clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The law from 1998 contains language that bans any attempt of circumventing the protection measure of digital copyright, which according to a number of providers includes the software tethering of the phone to one carrier.

For consumers fortunately, the Library of Congress in the U.S. can give exemptions to that Act, which was granted in 2006 for unlocking cell phones.

That ruling in turn sparked many protests from consumer tech advocates.

Most major U.S. carriers agreed voluntarily to unlock the phones of customers in December of 2013, after they had been pressured by the Federal Communications Commission.

However, unlocking of cell phones might not have a long life being legal. The practice is set to be reviewed in 2015 by the Library of Congress and a decision by them could outlaw the unlocking once again.

Congress must address the problems with the Act. One analyst compared the latest from Congress to stopping people from having a cough without curing the cold they have.

The process of unlocking the phone is not equal to what is called jailbreaking a device that runs on iOS. That process is exempt at this time from the DMCA with regard to iPods and iPhones, but not to tablets and in 2015 those particular rules will be reviewed as well.