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House passes cell phone 'unlocking' bill

Mobile Phone Shop

(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)

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john February 25 2014 at 11:20 PM

ok lets take it one step further make all charges so they can be used on all phones. this will keep old chargers out of the land fill !

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1 reply
David john February 26 2014 at 3:09 AM

You meant "chargers" both times - didn't you?

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bigrbk February 26 2014 at 7:25 AM


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gudtip February 26 2014 at 11:21 AM

if the phone is given by your service at no charge so they can get you as a customer then you should not be allowed to use the compettitor service, but if you pay for the phone, it is your and you should have the right to do anything you want with it and use the service that is best for you.

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2 replies
JOSEPH gudtip February 26 2014 at 11:27 AM

What about after your contract period is up?

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M gudtip February 27 2014 at 3:18 AM

Guess what... If you ty to terminate a contract early, part of the fees charged to leave early is the payment for the remainder of the phone cost that is built into the contract's monthly payment rate. You ARE paying for the phone, but the payments are made over the length of the contract.

So, the phone is NOT *given to you*, the company just spreads the payments over the length of the contract, and gets you to THINK it is *given to you*.

What a marketing gimmick.

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sval0902 February 26 2014 at 7:55 AM

Watch the retail pricing of cell phones in the US to change radicaly.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mociambz February 26 2014 at 8:09 AM

why should you not be able to sell your cell phone , you paid for it with the overcharges on a long term contract that would have cost much less had it not included the cell phone cost

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BURNTWEENYRIFF February 26 2014 at 8:23 AM

Good in some ways bad in others. They should not unlock a phone until it is proven to be NOT stolen. But on the good side, I purchased a Fender Eric Clapton phone years ago only to find that it can only be used with T-Mobile and not AT&T , Verizon or any other carrier and I could not use it. This may allow me to use it even though it is technologically behind, but still a great phone.

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Beach Bums February 26 2014 at 8:24 AM

we should be able to lock, unlock or whatever we decide with our own personal items once paid for. this is not democracy, seems like we forgot the meaning of the word here.

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Sue February 26 2014 at 10:47 AM

I think they shuold do that with the Ipad as well. I dislike my carrier and their methods. I would love to change carriers but i am stuck right now. How is they get such assistance from the law to keep their customers against their will??

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1 reply
JOSEPH Sue February 26 2014 at 11:28 AM

It's called Elected Officials being paid off by the Cell Phone Company Lobbyists.

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Larry 55 February 26 2014 at 8:38 AM

If you like your cellphone co, you can keep your cellphone co, if you don't like it, you should be able to use another w'out being charged extra, or Tricked/Hostaged into a contract. I feel that they should lure customers w' better service/equipment 'n lower prices, rather than, "If you like our stuff, sign up, for only two yrs" That's like buying a car, 'n having to sign a 2yr contract w' a certain Gas co. that the dealer is hooked up with so you can drive it. C'mon Prez O, Some things, "Companies" need Less Regulations, Some things, "Companies" Really need More Regulating. Cha Cha Cha

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liduvina77 February 26 2014 at 8:59 AM

I just want to have to freedom to go where I want with the phone I paid for.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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