House passes cellphone unlocking bill that now only needs Obama's signature

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The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill that will once again give consumers the right to unlock their cellphones, meaning the legislation is only a presidential signature away from becoming law.

Sina Khanifar, whose petitioning of the White House got the ball rolling on this almost two years, says via an email:

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Screen shot of White House petition

The Senate’s cellphone unlocking bill, S517, just passed unanimously in the House of Representatives.

Now it just requires the President’s signature to become law. It took 19 months of activism and advocacy, but we’re finally very close to consumers regaining the right to unlock the phones they’ve legally bought. I’m looking forward to seeing this bill finally become law - it’s been a long road against powerful, entrenched interests - but it’s great to see citizen advocacy work.

It’s important to note that the unlocking exemption that is being reinstated will only last until the Librarian of Congress’s next rulemaking, scheduled to happen in 2015. With such a strong signal from Congress, it’s very unlikely that the Librarian will remove the unlocking exemption.

President Obama’s signing of the bill would appear to be a foregone conclusion given this reply the White Posted last March in response to the petition.

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

The legislative process was not without problems, however, as earlier versions of the bill contained onerous exceptions that would have continued to make cellphone unlocking illegal for those who did so in “bulk,” such as resellers and recyclers. That language was dropped from the version of the bill that the House approved today.

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