WASHINGTON, July 25 The U.S. House of
Representatives approved legislation on Friday to give
mobile-phone users the right to 'unlock' their devices and use
them on competitors' wireless networks, something that is now
The legislation cleared the Senate last week and now only
requires President Barack Obama's signature to become law.
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, AT&T Inc, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile
US Inc - struck a voluntary agreement with the Federal
Communications Commission to make it easier for consumers to
unlock their phones after contracts expire.
Under current law, someone who unlocks their phone without
permission could face legal ramifications, including jail.
New legislation, welcomed by consumer advocates, 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 devices.
"Today's action by the House moves us closer to alleviating
any confusion stemming from the Copyright Office's 2012
decision," Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs
at the wireless association CTIA, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh. Editing by Andre Grenon)