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)

Recent Headlines

4 hours ago in National

Teen pregnancies hit historic low

Updated
sexed296416402183

The annual survey shows the continuation of a downward trend that began in 2006 and continued through 2014, the latest year of complete data, when nearly 250,000 babies were born to girls and women aged 15 to 19.

5 hours ago in National

U.S. high court approves rule change to expand FBI hacking power

A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection, is seen on an Internet Explorer browser in a photo illustration in Paris in this April 15, 2014 file photo.

The Supreme Court on Thursday approved a rule change that would let U.S. judges issue search warrants for access to computers located in any jurisdiction despite opposition from civil liberties groups who say it will greatly expand the FBI's hacking authority.

5 hours ago in National, World

Biden visits Iraq in show of support amid multiple crises

11-overlay-9

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials in unannounced visits to Baghdad and Erbil on Thursday to show support for a government battling Islamic State amid political and economic crises.

5 hours ago in National, World

No wall, but more high-tech gear, fencing sought by U.S. border agents

borderwallREUTERS

The modest scope of the requirements, details of which were contained in internal emails seen by Reuters and described by Border Patrol officials in interviews, contrasts sharply with calls by Republican presidential candidates for more drastic measures to secure the border.

5 hours ago in National

Trump’s ‘America first’ speech alarms U.S. allies

Updated
20-overlay-13

Donald Trump's first major foreign policy address alarmed American allies, who view the Republican front runner's repeated invocation of an "America first" agenda as a threat to retreat from the world.