Unlocking bill passes House

The move to restore consumers’ legal right to unlock their cell phones took a step forward on Tuesday.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would overturn a regulatory ruling from last year. That ruling, made by the Librarian of Congress, eliminated a previous exemption from copyright law that allowed consumers to unlock their cell phones.

Under the bill, H.R. 1123, the Librarian would review the issue again next year. The bill, which passed 295-114, will now proceed to the Senate.

While many in Congress on both sides of the aisle support restoring unlocking rights, some supporters ended up opposing the bill after it was quietly changed late last week. The new language added to the bill would bar the bulk unlocking of cell phones, which could hinder the market for used cell phones. That provision, which wasn’t subject to any hearings or debate, would be bad for consumers and set a bad precedent, argued local representatives Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, among others.

As I wrote in my column on Monday, I think the issue would be better handled by having the Federal Communications Commission simply ban the locking of cell phones to particular carriers.

Photo by Don Ryan, Associated Press.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (229 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.