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Unlocking phones in the US will soon be legal

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Congress passes unlocking bill, and Obama plans to sign

Consumers in the US will soon be able to legally unlock their phones for use on other wireless networks. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill this afternoon legalizing cell phone unlocking, following the lead of the US Senate earlier this summer. President Obama came out in support of the policy over a year ago, spurring this activity in Congress, and now all that's left is for him to sign this bill into law — which the president has said that he'll do.

"The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget," Obama says in a statement. "I commend Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte, and Ranking Members Grassley and Conyers for their leadership on this important consumer issue and look forward to signing this bill into law."

"It will provide greater competition and more consumer choice."

The bill, known as the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," directs the Library of Congress to allow consumers and third-parties to legally unlock phones that were received through a carrier. Carriers have always been able to unlock these phones on their own, but until recently they often had convoluted and arbitrary rules governing if and when they would actually unlock one.

Today's legislation will not permanently allow legal phone unlocking, however. The rule will be reconsidered by the Library of Congress once again in 2015 and every three years thereafter unless circumstances should change. It appears unlikely that unlocking will be banned again next year given the wide support for it, but there may be a continued struggle for its legalization in the future.

"The cell phone unlocking bill has a direct impact on Americans as we become more reliant on our wireless devices," Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says in a statement. "This bipartisan bill is pro-consumer and pro-competition and allows for greater ease in the portability of devices.  It will provide greater competition and more consumer choice."

Update July 25th, 4:35PM: this article has been updated with a statement from President Obama noting that he plans to sign the bill into law.