Compromise struck on cellphone unlocking bill

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have reached a bipartisan deal on legislation that would allow people to “unlock” their cellphones when changing providers.

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The bill, which will be considered on Thursday, would allow users to take their mobile device from one wireless network to another, and is backed by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

“Consumers should be able to use their existing cell phones when they move their service to a new wireless provider,” Leahy said in a statement.

“Our laws should not prohibit consumers from carrying their cell phones to a new network, and we should promote and protect competition in the wireless marketplace,” he said.

Grassley called the bipartisan compromise “an important step forward in ensuring that there is competition in the industry and in safeguarding options for consumers as they look at new cell phone contracts.”

“Empowering people with the freedom to use the carrier of their choice after complying with their original terms of service is the right thing to do,” he said.

The House in February passed a companion bill sponsored on cellphone unlocking from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Late last year, after prodding from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, major players in the wireless industry reached a voluntary agreement to unlock phones so they can be used on competitors' networks.

While the movement in Congress and industry agreement could clear legal obstacles for cellphone unlocking, technological barriers could still keep users from using the same devices when switching networks. 

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