Today, Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) called for legislation to be passed that would guarantee that consumers can unlock their cell phones, tablets, and other mobile communications devices in order to switch carriers. Under current law, most cell phones and other wireless devices come "locked" to a specific carrier. This means that, even after consumers' contracts are up, they are unable to switch carriers, or "unlock" their phone unless they get specific permission from the original carrier.
Rep. Israel said, "Consumers shouldn't have to purchase an entirely new device just so they can switch wireless carriers. We should be encouraging marketplace competition, not stifling it. That's why I'm supporting common-sense, bipartisan legislation that would make it legal for consumers to "unlock' their devices and have the option to change their wireless carrier using the device they rightfully own."
Chuck Bell, Programs Director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports joined the congressman. He said, "Consumers Union strongly supports the right of consumers to unlock their mobile phones, so that they have broader and more flexible options for purchasing wireless service. For example, consumers should be permitted to obtain an unlocked mobile phone for themselves, and adapt it for use with the wireless carrier of their choice. They should be permitted to unlock their phones while traveling abroad for use with a foreign wireless carrier. According to a 2011 nationwide poll conducted by Consumer Reports, an overwhelming ninety-six percent of respondents felt that consumers should be able to keep their existing handsets when changing carriers."
Cell phone unlocking is the term used to describe when consumers can change the software on a phone so they can use it on multiple wireless carriers, including international carriers. Currently, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law that outlaws technology intended to circumvent copyright laws, it is illegal to unlock cell phones. In 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who is tasked with determining which technologies are exempt from the DMCA, decided not to extend the exemption on cell phone unlocking technology.
Rep. Israel is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1892, The Unlocking Technology Act, which would make it permanently legal for consumers to unlock their mobile devices without requiring them to obtain permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier. Additionally, the bill would permit the use and sale of tools -- like software apps -- that enable unlocking for uses that do not infringe on copyright.
In addition to co-sponsoring the legislation, Rep. Israel sent a letter to the Librarian of Congress urging him to reinstate the exemption from DMCA for cell phone unlocking.