WASHINGTON Feb 25 The U.S. House of
Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would give
mobile-phone users the right to "unlock" their devices and use
them on competitors' wireless networks, although Senate action
The House approved the bill easily, by a 295-114 vote,
although some Democrats had pushed back against what they said
was a last-minute Republican maneuver to change the legislation.
It is not known whether the Senate will consider the bill.
U.S. wireless carriers often tether, or "lock," smartphones
to their networks to encourage consumers to renew their mobile
contracts. Consumers, for their part, can often buy new devices
at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing to
long-term contracts with a single carrier.
Major carriers, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc
, Sprint Corp, T-Mobile US and U.S. Cellular
, in December made a voluntary pledge to make it easier
for consumers to unlock their cellphones, under pressure from
consumer groups and the Federal Communications Commission.
Under current law, those unlocking their phones without
permission could face legal ramifications, including jail.
The notion of undoing that law has had wide support from
Republicans and Democrats since the bill's introduction in the
House in 2013.
But the bill's author, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a
Virginia Republican, added language after the bill had been
approved by a partisan majority of the House Judiciary
Committee, banning "bulk unlocking."
Consumer advocates have argued that customers should be
allowed to sell their old devices to third parties that could
unlock phones in bulk, something the wireless industry opposes.
Four Democrats, led by California Representatives Zoe
Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, wrote to their colleagues on Tuesday to
protest the bulk unlocking exclusion.
The new provision "could undercut an important court
decision that protects consumer choice and prevents monopolistic
practices. We cannot in good conscience support a bill that
risks giving up so much for so little gain," the Democrats said.
A consumer rights group, Public Knowledge, last week
suspended its support of the bill.