Bob Goodlatte: Unlocking consumer choice in wireless

bob-goodlatte-afp2Have you ever wanted to switch wireless carriers, but keep the same phone? Or have you purchased a used phone recently and planned to activate it on a different wireless network? It seems like common sense to me. Consumers who have completed their phone contracts or have purchased a used phone should be able to activate their device on their network of choice. However, if you’ve tried to do that in the last year, you know that this simple action is no longer allowed under current law. But, that’s about to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the United States House of Representatives and Senate both unanimously passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which I introduced last year. And President Obama recently signed this legislation into law.

This pro-consumer, bipartisan legislation restores the ability of consumers to more easily transfer their cell phones to other wireless carriers. Consumers are still subject to their contractual obligations. However, once these are met, this bill allows a cell phone to be unlocked and switched to another carrier if that is what the consumer chooses. The legislation also directs the Librarian of Congress to consider applying this option to tablets and other devices in the future.

In October 2012, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress announced that it would not extend the previous exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed consumers to unlock their mobile phones to be used on different networks. This exemption expired on January 26, 2013. Last year, more than 100,000 concerned consumers signed a “We the People” petition on the White House’s website calling for action to make cell phone unlocking legal. And Congress listened.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act protects consumer choice by allowing flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless carrier. By restoring the cell phone exemption, the power is put back in the hands of the consumer. Furthermore, restoring the ability to unlock cell phones will help enhance competition between wireless carriers. Instead of stifling technological advances and consumer choice, our laws should encourage innovation that will help drive the United States’ global competitiveness.

This flexibility and choice is something that Americans have been asking for. I have been working on this issue for many months now, and I am pleased that Congress and the White House were able to work together to ensure the bill was passed and signed into law, allowing consumers to unlock their cell phones. This is a simple, but important, fix to a real problem that consumers face today.

Bob Goodlatte represents the Sixth District in Congress.

 
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