News

The government might ‘unlock’ your phone

The government might ‘unlock’ your phone

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?: U.S. wireless carriers often tether, or "lock," smartphones to their networks to encourage consumers to renew their mobile contracts. Consumers, for their part, can often buy new devices at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing to long-term contracts with a single carrier. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would give mobile-phone users the right to “unlock” their devices and use them on competitors’ wireless networks, although Senate action was uncertain.

The House approved the bill easily, by a 295-114 vote, although some Democrats had pushed back against what they said was a last-minute Republican maneuver to change the legislation.

It is not known whether the Senate will consider the bill.

U.S. wireless carriers often tether, or “lock,” smartphones to their networks to encourage consumers to renew their mobile contracts. Consumers, for their part, can often buy new devices at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing to long-term contracts with a single carrier.

Major carriers, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Corp, T-Mobile US and U.S. Cellular, in December made a voluntary pledge to make it easier for consumers to unlock their cellphones, under pressure from consumer groups and the Federal Communications Commission.

Under current law, those unlocking their phones without permission could face legal ramifications, including jail.

The notion of undoing that law has had wide support from Republicans and Democrats since the bill’s introduction in the House in 2013.

But the bill’s author, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, added language after the bill had been approved by a partisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee, banning “bulk unlocking.”

Consumer advocates have argued that customers should be allowed to sell their old devices to third parties that could unlock phones in bulk, something the wireless industry opposes.

Four Democrats, led by California Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, wrote to their colleagues on Tuesday to protest the bulk unlocking exclusion.

The new provision “could undercut an important court decision that protects consumer choice and prevents monopolistic practices. We cannot in good conscience support a bill that risks giving up so much for so little gain,” the Democrats said.

A consumer rights group, Public Knowledge, last week suspended its support of the bill.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny and Alina Selyukh; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Latest Stories

6 hours ago in Viral Videos

An honest trailer for ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’

16-overlay-9

Before you see "X-Men: Apocalypse," relive the '90s cartoon that you still remember - and the theme song that you can't get out of your head.

7 hours ago in Entertainment

Judge denies motion for new Gawker-Hulk Hogan trial

hulk84135568722

A Florida judge has denied Gawker's motion for a new trial in the Hulk Hogan sex-video case and won't reduce a $140 million jury verdict.

7 hours ago in National

Clinton did not comply with federal email policy, watchdog finds

15-overlay-13

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while U.S. secretary of state broke government rules and was not approved by State Department security officials, according to an internal government watchdog's report released on Wednesday.

10 hours ago in Charlottesville City, Local

New Principal Named At CHS

Irizarry Eric 052516 (from Charlottesville City Schools)

Charlottesville High School has a new principal who comes here from Wilmington, North Carolina.

10 hours ago in Albemarle County, Charlottesville City, Local, Surrounding Counties, UVA

Kroger, Union Reach Agreement

KrogerEmmetHydraulic092407

Kroger and the union representing many of the grocery chain's workers have reached an agreement on a new contract.