Today the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that lets customers legally unlock their cell phones and switch carriers. The same bill was passed in the Senate last week, and now President Obama is expected to sign it into law.
The process of unlocking a phone to take it to another carrier in the U.S. has been a convoluted and questionably illegal one. The “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” is designed to make the process easier for those looking to take phones to a different service provider. But there’s an important caveat.
The bill won’t permit you to unlock your phone mid-contract and take it from, for example, AT&T to Verizon. The goal is to restore “he Library of Congress’s former exemption so that consumers may unlock their phones after their contracts have expired.” (Emphasis added.)
That’s right, legal unlocking is only being applied to situations where the life of a carrier contract has been fulfilled and you own the phone outright. A decision by the U.S. Copyright Office in 2012 made it so you to have to ask your carrier’s permission to get your phone unlocked after your contract was up.
If this new bill is made into law, the same exemption could be applied to a broader set of devices, including tablets.