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Lawmakers join effort to legalize cell phone unlocking

A day after the Obama administration endorsed an online petition to legalize cell phone unlocking, a senator introduces a bill that would allow consumers to take their handsets to other carriers.

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A day after the White House endorsed cell phone unlocking, several lawmakers voiced support today for legislation to legalize the process.

The Obama administration threw its support behind an Internet petition yesterday that asks the Library of Congress to change its stance on the legality of smartphone unlocking. The process became illegal earlier this year when the Library of Congress, which has the responsibility of reviewing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act every three years, opted not to renew the exemption for unlocking phones.

The change, which prevents prevent cell phones from being used on other carrier networks, caused quite a stir in the wireless community, leading to an online petition that garnered some 114,322 signatures before winning the president's support.

In response, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a bill today called the Wireless Device Independence Act (see below), which would "allow consumers to unlock cell phones for interoperability purposes."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also voiced his support for legislation to legalize cell phone unlocking. His committee is responsible for copyright issues and would likely have oversight of efforts to legalize cell phone unlocking.

"I agree with the Administration that consumers should have the flexibility to use their devices on any network they choose, provided they comply with the terms of service," Leahy said in a statement today. "I intend to work in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to restore users' ability to unlock their phones and provide them with the choice and freedom that we have all come to expect in the digital era."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also indicated that he is working on similar legislation.

"You own the phone, you should be able to unlock it," he tweeted this evening.

The Federal Communications Commission said it is examining the issue and would endorse a legislative fix.

"From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution."

03-05-2013 Wireless Device Independence Act Bill Text by Brian Fung