House committee approves bill to end ban on unlocking phones

The bill would restore an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that lets consumers unlock their phones without permission from their wireless carrier.

A rule, that went into effect in January, made it illegal to unlock phones without permission from carriers. Amanda Kooser/CNET

Consumers are one step closer to being able to legally unlock their smartphone -- again.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would allow consumers to unlock their phones without permission from their wireless carrier.

The bill, H.R. 1123, would restore an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was rejected by the Library of Congress in October 2012. The exemption would make it legal to break the software locks carriers put on devices to prevent them from being used on other carrier networks.

"The bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act protects consumer choice by allowing consumers flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless carrier," said Goodlatte, the chief sponsor of the bill, in a statement. "This is something that Americans have been asking for and it is imperative that Congress act to restore the exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their cell phones."

Not surprisingly, when the law against unlocking phones went into effect in January it was met with resistance. An online petition against the change garnered some 114,322 signatures and the support of the Obama administration , which said it would support legislation to remedy the issue.

The committee also approved an amendment to the bill that allows third parties -- meaning family members or other people not associated with a wireless carrier -- to help consumers unlock their phone.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

 

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