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Senator announces bill to legalize cell phone unlocking following support from White House (update)

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Yesterday the White House said that "it's time to legalize cell phone unlocking" in an official response to a public petition, and today Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has announced that she will introduce a bill this week to address the issue. The bill's language has not been revealed yet, but the senator says that her legislation will "get rid of the ban on unlocking cellphones."

The petition that prompted action from President Obama's administration was a response to the Library of Congress' decision not to extend an exemption to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that allowed phone owners to unlock their devices. The White House said that removing the ban is "common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market." In a separate statement issued following the White House's official response, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agreed with overturning the ban, saying that "from a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test." Both the White House and the FCC suggested that legislative action could resolve the issue.

That legislative action will arrive this week, and while there's no guarantee it will pass — Senator Klobuchar has not announced any cosponsors yet — it could ride on early support from the White House. "Consumers should be free to choose the phone and service that best fits their needs and their budgets," the senator said today. "We need to make sure consumers are getting a fair deal and today's announcement is a welcome step towards implementing consumer-friendly policies in the wireless industry."

Update: The Hill reports that several lawmakers today said they want to pass legislation to legalize cellphone unlocking, including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is introducing a bill named the Wireless Device Independence Act. Several other lawmakers are said to be interested in passing legislation to legalize cellphone unlocking, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). It's too early to say which proposal will win out, but the initial rush from members of both major parties in Congress signals bipartisan support that could carry legislation forward quickly. (Correction: an earlier version of this update said that lawmakers were working to legalize cellphone locking. We apologize for the error.)

Update 2: Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), Ranking Member on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, also announced her intentions to introduce legislation "eliminating the ban on unlocking cell phones and other mobile devices."