After the House of Representatives passed legislation to give US mobile phone users the right to unlock their devices, all that remains now is for President Barack Obama to rubber-stamp the bill and make it law.
The Senate has already waved the legislation through.
“The bill congress passed… is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” Obama said.
US telecoms regulator FCC, along with consumer interest groups, got hot under the collar when the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress – in 2012 – reversed its longstanding position and stated it was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for consumers to unlock new mobile phones without their wireless providers’ permission.
The “violation” even applied to customers outside their contract periods. As such, those who did unlock their mobile phones faced criminal penalties.
In December the biggest US operators committed to a set of “voluntary industry principles” related to device unlocking, with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon Wireless all on board.
The operators’ move came shortly after Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman, wrote to US industry association CTIA to warn that it is “now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate”.
The US regulator’s concern was related to a lack of support for the automatic notification of customers when devices become available for unlocking – which is now on the list of principles the operators are supporting.
Legislation, however, was clearly seen as necessary to make sure all operators played ball.
Consumer advocates, while welcoming legislation that reinstates the exemption given to mobile phones in the copyright law (before the 2012 ruling by the Library of Congress) are said to be looking at expanding the exemption to tablets and other devices.