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Senate committee reaches compromise on bill to unlock cellphones

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After a reaching a bipartisan compromise, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up a bill June 26 that would allow consumers to unlock their cellphones so they can switch providers without buying a new phone.

Members announced the compromise June 23 after working on it for months, they said.

"Our laws should not prohibit consumers from carrying their cell phones to a new network, and we should promote and protect competition in the wireless marketplace," said committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a statement. "This is important to consumers in every state, and I look forward to beginning consideration of our bipartisan legislation this week."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in the same statement that "it's the right thing to do."

"This bipartisan agreement is an important step forward in ensuring that there is competition in the industry and in safeguarding options for consumers as they look at new cell phone contracts," he said.

Most contract phones come "locked" to a particular network by a software code that ensures the phones cannot be used on any other wireless provider's network.

In February, the House passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (H.R. 1123) by a 295-114 vote. It would repeal an October 2012 decision by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress not to extend a previous exemption for unlocking cellphones to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The exemption expired for phones bought after January 26, 2013.

A DMCA provision (pdf) makes it illegal for people to "circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access" to a copyrighted work. Essentially, cellphone unlocking falls under this provision.

For more:
- read the text of the unlocking cellphone legislation
- read the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (.pdf)

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