WASHINGTON, March 7 U.S. lawmakers have picked
up the baton from the White House in the effort to make it legal
for cellphone users to switch their devices to any mobile
At issue is whether cellphone buyers, who often get new
devices at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing
to long-term contracts, should then be able to take their
gadgets with them when they change carriers.
Opponents argue that the phones should be "locked," or
prevented from moving freely across networks, because of the
subsidies that carriers provide to buy the phones. The subsidies
help get the devices into the hands of more people.
Senators introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday, the
second in that chamber, adding to a similar effort in the House
of Representatives that hopes to overturn the ban on switching
imposed by the Library of Congress and took effect in January.
The White House on Monday responded to an online petition,
signed by more than 100,000 people, protesting the ban. The
Obama administration sided with the petitioners and said it
would support "narrow legislative fixes."
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius
Genachowski has also encouraged a legislative solution, saying
the ban raised "serious competition and innovation concerns."
The FCC is also weighing regulatory or industry fixes, he said.
Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard
Blumenthal of Connecticut together with Republican Senator Mike
Lee of Utah introduced a bill that would direct the FCC to
ensure the consumers could legally unlock their phones.
Democratic Rep. Anna Eschoo of California is expected to
introduce a companion bill in the House.
Thursday's bill follows a proposal from another Democrat,
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, whose bill unveiled on Tuesday would
update the copyright law to allow unlocking of devices.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from
Vermont, and other lawmakers have pledged to back similar
legislation, welcomed by consumer advocacy groups.
The wireless industry group CTIA has said that U.S. carriers
already have "liberal, publicly available unlocking policies"
and customers have easy access to full-priced unlocked devices
in the marketplace.
But the online petition to the White House, signed by
114,322 people, argued that preventing "unlocking" reduces
consumer choice and the resale value of phones, which can cost
hundreds of dollars without subsidies from carriers such as AT&T
Inc, Verizon Wireless and Sprint.
"Consumers should have flexibility and choice when it comes
to their wireless service and they deserve to keep and use cell
phones they have already purchased," Klobuchar said in a
statement on Thursday.
The Library of Congress, which among other things is
responsible for setting rules and deciding on exemptions related
to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, said on Monday the
issue would benefit from further debate and that its intention
was not to supplant public policy discussion.