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Americans can unlock their phones again at last

Legislation closes loophole, but you have to do it yourself
Wed Feb 26 2014, 14:37

A MUCH CRITICISED LOOPHOLE forbidding US citizens from unlocking their phones appears about to be patched.

HR 1123, the Unlocking Choice and Wireless Competition Act, has been extended by the US House of Representatives to cover the unlocking of mobile phones that were no longer served by the original contract.

Previously, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) allowed anyone to unlock a mobile phone from its original network, however when the ruling came up for renewal, the Library of Congress opted not to renew the ruling, meaning that for the past year it has been a US federal offence to unlock a mobile phone, despite some carriers allowing it anyway.

Although the ruling was mostly favoured by both political parties in the US House of Representatives, a last minute addendum banning bulk unlocking unsettled many, with the resulting margin of approval turning out to be far narrower than expected.

This means that although individual US consumers are free to unlock their phones, it remains illegal to set up a business unlocking phones for consumers.

In many UK towns, a similar law would leave only betting parlours, charity shops and fried chicken takeaways on the high streets and in the malls.

"The last-minute change that was made in this bill [...] puts a real poison pill in this bill for consumer advocates such as myself," said Jared Polis, Republican of Colorado. "Many consumers won't be unlocking their phones themselves. There needs to be a market in unlocked phones."

In the UK there is a huge trade in phone unlocking services that has brought mobile prices down compared to a decade ago, when it would have cost around £50 to get your mobile network to free you at the end of your contract. µ


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