Another Bill that Legalizes Cell Phone Unlocking Emerges from the Hill But Draws Criticism

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It’s called the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition act, and members of the senate judiciary committee Patrick Leahy, Al Franken, as well as Republicans Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Lee are supporting it. The scope of this bill is fairly narrow. It basically makes it legal for you to take your phone to another carrier whenever you want. It is always good to see Congress working on something in a bi-partisan fashion and this bill has support in both the House and Senate.

Senator Hatch said, “It just makes sense that cell phone users should be able to do what they want with their phones after satisfying their initial service contract,”  “This bill reinstates that ability, while also ensuring that copyrights are not violated.”

Senator Al Franken had this to say: “Right now, folks who decide to change cellphone carriers are frequently forced to buy a new phone or risk the possibility of criminal penalties, and that’s just not fair for consumers,”

But the real issue behind the cell phone unlocking fiasco is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And although it is great to see Senators and Congressman tackling an issue that is important to the growth and development of the mobile industry, it would be better to see the underlying legal problems that the DMCA created being addressed. The DMCA was created by lobbyists for record labels and movie studios to prevent pirating of copyrighted material (how is that working out?). This all might sound familiar since it was the same record labels and movie studios that nearly destroyed the foundations of e-commerce and freedom of expression using the SOPA legislation just last year.

The bills that are in front of congress right now certainly allow consumers to unlock their cell phones, but these bills do not address the underlying issue of the DMCA. The DCMA gives the Library of Congress the power to re-visit copyright and consumer rights issues every three years. Which means that three years from now we might have un-elected bureaucrats taking away another basic consumer right. If this line of thinking makes sense to you, you can check out FixTheDMCA.org and join the fight to get more common sense legislation passed while this issue has the attention of so many members of congress.

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