Regional and rural wireless providers are backing several bills in Congress that would let consumers unlock mobile phones and tablet computers without carriers’ permission. Big phone companies often land exclusive rights to offer the hottest devices, and U.S. rules currently prohibit altering software to let new phones from one carrier to work on other networks.
“Smaller carriers have a very difficult time getting access to smartphones and handsets,” said Steven Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association, which represents such companies as U.S. Cellular Corp. (USM) and Bluegrass Cellular. “The unlocking is one way the consumer can make the decision that I can try someone else who has better coverage in the area where I live or play.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Charles Grassley of Iowa, introduced a bill March 11 to overturn the Library of Congress’s decision and add tablets as unlockable devices.
Senator Ron Wyden has introduced the 'Wireless Device Independence Act' a bill that if passed will make cell phone unlocking legal, as well.
These bills were put forward after the White House and the FCC came out in support of making cell phone unlocking legal in response to a petition that garnered 114,000 signatures. Since 2006, The Library of Congress had issued an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed for cell phone unlocking; however, it decided not to extend that exemption past January, 2013.