July 10 The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on
Thursday approved bringing before the full Senate legislation
that would give mobile-phone users the right to "unlock" their
devices and use them on competitors' wireless networks,
something that is now technically illegal.
The bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick
Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, is similar to legislation passed
by the House of Representatives in February and is expected to
have bipartisan support when it reaches the Senate floor for a
The lawmaking follows a 2012 ruling by the Library of
Congress, the minder of U.S. copyright law, that effectively
made phone unlocking illegal, even after the consumer completed
the contract with its wireless carrier.
U.S. wireless carriers often tether, or "lock," smartphones
to their networks to encourage consumers to renew 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.
In December, major wireless carriers -- including Verizon
Wireless N>, AT&T Inc, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile
US -- struck a voluntary agreement with the Federal
Communications Commission to make it easier for consumers to
unlock their phones after their contracts expire.
Under current law, someone who unlocks their phone without
permission could face legal ramifications, including jail.
Leahy's bill reinstates the exemption given to mobile phones
in the copyright law before the controversial 2012 ruling by the
Library of Congress and calls on the officials there to
reconsider the issue during its next round of reviews in 2015,
potentially expanding the exemption to tablets and other
"We appreciate the Judiciary Committee's effort to strike an
appropriate balance by authorizing unlocking without imposing
obligations on carriers," Jot Carpenter, vice president of
government affairs at the wireless industry group CTIA, said in
a statement on Thursday.
In addition to allowing consumers to unlock devices
themselves, Leahy's bill would allow consumers to authorize
someone else to do it for them.
"Enabling consumers to unlock mobile devices will improve
competition in the wireless market by making it easier to switch
from one carrier to another," Laura Moy, staff attorney at
consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh in Toronto; Editing by Leslie