US House passes bill that makes unlocking your phone legal

Unlocked iPhone

Reuters is reporting that the US House has passed a bill that would allow mobile phone users to unlock their devices and use them on competitors’ wireless networks without repercussions, making the once ‘gray-area’ practice completely legal.

Before you get too excited, however, there are a few big asterisks. First, for the bill to be written into law it must also be approved by the Senate, which could take years or never happen. And two, the bill contains an exclusion for ‘bulk unlocking.’

Here’s the report from Reuters (via Engadget):

“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 was uncertain.

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.”

The exclusion of ‘bulk unlocking’ was said to be a last-minute change by the Republicans, who argued that it wouldn’t prevent the bulk sale of previously unlock phones, but Democrats called the modification a”poison pill” for consumer advocates.

The Hill has comments from Senator Polis on the bill:

“Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said he opposes the bill now because it indicates congressional opposition to the idea of allowing bulk unlocking services.”The last-minute change that was made in this bill… puts a real poison pill in this bill for consumer advocates such as myself,” Polis said. “Many consumers won’t be unlocking their phones themselves. There needs to be a market in unlocked phones.”

For those unfamiliar with the battle, up until January 27, 2013 US consumers were permitted to unlock their phones under an exemption created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But that exemption expired last year, making the process illegal.

The move has been panned by consumers, who collected more than 100,00 signatures for a White House petition to make unlocking legal, as well as the FCC chairman, but until this bill was written, the issue had received very little attention in Washington.

We’ll let you know when (or if) the bill makes its way to the Senate Floor.