Senate passes bill to allow ‘unlocking’ cell phones

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow consumers to “unlock” their cell phone in order to switch providers once their contract is up.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced S. 517, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which would restore an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) permitting consumers users to “unlock” their cell phones when their contract expires.

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“This straightforward restoring bill is about promoting consumer rights,” Leahy said when the bill was introduced last year. “When consumers finish the terms of their contract, they should be able to keep their phones and make their own decision about which wireless provider to use.”

The bill was necessary after the Library of Congress determined that cell phone software could be protected by copyright and unlocking a phone could violate that protection. But Leahy said the bill allows consumers to “unlock” their phones while protecting proprietary software rights of technology firms.

The Senate passed the bill through a unanimous consent agreement and it now head to the House for further action.