Obama signs cellphone unlocking bill

The rapidly approved law will give consumers more freedom to switch carriers, but only until 2015

The right to unlock your cellphone became law on Friday as President Barack Obama signed a bill that rapidly passed both houses of the U.S. Congress.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act passed in the Senate on July 16 and was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives last Friday. Obama had been expected to sign it.

The law restores U.S. consumers' rights to update the software on their phones so they can change mobile operators. That practice had been outlawed by a January 2013 decision by the Library of Congress, which ruled that consumer unlocking violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Most cellphones sold in the U.S. come with built-in software that locks the phone so it can be used on only one carrier's network. The Library of Congress had found that changing that software violated the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, which are typically deployed against cracking of digital-rights-management technology.

The law just signed is good news for customers of AT&T and T-Mobile, which use the same network technology, so phones can be switched easily if unlocked. It also benefits international travelers who want to buy service from a foreign carrier instead of roaming, which is typically more expensive.

However, there is a catch to the new law: Its exemption to the DMCA will expire in 2015, when the Library of Congress is due to make another rulemaking on the subject.

"Unfortunately, Congress wasn't ready to deal with the underlying copyright issue that makes it illegal to unlock your phone," said Sina Khanifar, who organized an online petition against the Library of Congress decision, in a prepared statement. "I'm going to be celebrating tonight. And consumers have another year and half to unlock their devices. Hopefully the Librarian of Congress will have better sense than to deny an unlocking exemption again."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentmobilelegislationU.S. Library of Congress

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?