House passes phone unlocking bill, to be renewed in 2015

Mobile phone users in the US can now breathe another sigh of relief. Soon, it will no longer be a criminal act to have your device unlocked long after your contract with your carrier expired. Following the lead of the Senate, the House unanimously approved the " Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act", which is now just waiting for the President to sign into law.

The DMCA of 1998 criminalized the act of circumventing software protection. Unfortunately, that is the very same process used to unlock phones for use on other carriers' networks. Such was the clamor about this matter that the Library of Congress granted an exception to this and only this act, which unfortunately expired January last year. Now both houses have approved the bill that will reinstate that exception, at least for the time being.

Just two weeks ago, the Senate quickly passed the bill without any modification, unlike a previous attempt at the House earlier this year that would have left phone unlocking businesses out in the cold, or in jail. Now the House has made a U-turn and approved the same version that passed the Senate, removing any further obstacle from turning the exception into law.

It is now all in the hands of President Barack Obama, who is fortunately very supportive of the bill. He in fact pushed for similar policies, directing federal agencies to work with carriers in allowing subscribers to unlock their devices even before the bill was passed. He said that he is looking forward to signing the bill into law, which means it will only be a matter of time before that happens.

There is, however, one subtlety to this soon to be law. The exception will actually only be in effect until next year. Lawmakers will have to take up the matter again in 2015 and every three years after that. While it there is little chance that the favorable attitude towards the bill will completely flip by next year, it does mean that the exception will be easily subject to the political mood, whims, and not to mention lobbying in Congress.

VIA: The Verge