For the past couple weeks, we’ve been following the very swift progress the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act has been making on its way to becoming law in the US. First the Senate passed the bill, and a week later the House gave its own approval. That just left a presidential signature needed before the Act would become law, and today President Obama’s delivering just that, restoring smartphone unlocking rights to Americans.
What does this law do? It used to be that the process of carrier-unlocking phones was granted a special exemption from the DMCA, which otherwise would prohibit users from modifying their phones (even hardware they fully owned) to defeat carrier locks. But the last time DMCA exemptions went up for renewal, this unlocking provision didn’t find itself among ones that made the cut, effectively making it illegal again. This law reverses that move, reinstating the exemption and legitimizing unlocking once more.
In addition to that, it directs the Library of Congress to consider exemptions for other wireless devices that are locked by carriers in a similar manner, like certain cellular-enabled tablets.
Even with this law in place, you’ll still need to fulfill any contractual requirements behind subsidized phones before being able to take them to other carriers, and there’s still the very real issue of modulation and band support to consider when moving from one network to another, but this is still a big victory for smartphone users.