Leahy cell phone bill becomes law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In what he said is a victory for consumers, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has authored legislation that will allow Americans to switch wireless carriers while keeping their cell phone or tablet.
The process, known as “unlocking,” affords consumers more freedom to choose the wireless carrier and mobile device that best suits them.
On Friday, President Obama signed the legislation, formally titled the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.
The new law aims to save consumers money by allowing them to switch to a new carrier without having to purchase a new device. Previously, consumers’ choices for wireless carriers could have been limited, even after their initial wireless contracts had expired.
“Smart phones and tablets can cost many hundreds of dollars, and many consumers would like to choose which network they connect to without incurring the substantial cost of purchasing a brand new device,” the bill reads.
Wireless providers, such as Verizon and AT&T, are still empowered to prohibit consumers from unlocking their phones while under contract. Often, the period of these contracts is two years.
Leahy’s bill does not make cell phone unlocking legal for the first time — it was permitted by Congress for a period of six years that ended two years ago.
Starting in 2006, consumers had been able to legally unlock their phones, per an exemption in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That exemption expired in 2012. In response, more than 110,000 Americans signed a White House petition to lift the ban on cell phone unlocking.
The bill originated in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, and was passed by the full body July 16. The House OK’d the Senate version on July 25.
According to a draft of the legislation, 90 percent of Americans own a cell phone, 58 percent own a smartphone and 40 percent own a tablet device.
“I applaud the Senate for so quickly passing the bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which puts consumers first and promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace,” Leahy said in a statement.

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