Obama signs cellphone unlocking bill

President Obama on Friday signed into law a bill that allows consumers to “unlock” their cellphones and switch wireless companies without giving up their phones.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act will allow consumers to take their cellphones with them when they switch wireless companies.

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In a blog post, National Economic Director Jeff Zients and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — who sponsored the bill in the Senate — hailed the bill as a victory for consumers.

“At a time when partisan gridlock all too often threatens progress on everyday issues that matter to consumers, working together we listened to your voices, and the American people benefited as a result,” the pair wrote.

Consumers are still obligated to fulfill any contracts they have with their wireless companies, and technological differences will keep some phones from working on certain networks.

The bill also does not undo the standing ban on "bulk unlocking."

The law reverses a Library of Congress ruling that made it illegal for consumers to keep their phones if they switched companies. That 2012 triennial review departed from previous rulings that allowed consumers to unlock their cellphones.

The decision prompted a backlash from consumers, 114,000 of whom signed an online White House petition asking the administration to reverse the decision.

In the blog post, Zients and Leahy said the cellphone unlocking bill is “the first time a We the People petition has led to a legislative fix.”

“The story of how we broke through Washington gridlock to restore the freedom of consumers to take their mobile phone wherever they choose is one worth telling, and a model worth repeating,” they said.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler — who pressured wireless companies to agree to unlock customers’ cellphones last year — praised the bill.

“This new law is a positive development that addresses the issues that triggered unlocking concerns in the first place,” he said in a statement. 

“When the wireless industry worked with the FCC on a voluntary agreement to unlock devices when consumers’ contracts have been fulfilled, they took an important step forward. The President’s signature today makes greater consumer choice the law of the land.”

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