It's finally happened: as of today, unlocking your cellphone to work on other networks will be legal again in the US. The White House and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who helped pass legislation earlier this year, announced that President Barack Obama is signing the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. The bill will restore a copyright exemption that allows customers (or authorized third parties) to modify a phone's firmware, removing the restrictions that most carriers place on their phones.
President Obama made clear last week that he would be signing the bill, a version of which was recently agreed upon by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The rule was one of several proposals floated last year in response to a call from the White House, and the White House itself was responding to an official online petition, which collected over 100,000 signatures in favor of legalizing phone unlocking. This series of political dominoes leads Leahy and White House advisor Jeff Zients to call the pending law an "example of democracy at its best: bipartisan congressional action in direct response to a call to action from the American people." Cellphone unlocking, with varying degrees of freedom, has gotten broad support. Outside the lawmaking process, the FCC previously reached a deal with major wireless carriers that would standardize how customers can get their phones unlocked once the terms of their contract are up.
Despite this, today's signature doesn't mark the end of debate. Until last year, cellphone unlocking was allowed through a temporary exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on breaking copy protection. The bill reinstates that exception, but it's still temporary — every three years, the Librarian of Congress has to decide whether it should continue to apply, though the bill does instruct them to carefully consider whether unlocking should be extended and possibly expanded to other devices. Regardless of whether that happens, it's no replacement for larger copyright reform. But, at least for today, you can celebrate by unlocking all your phones (or telling someone else to do it) without fear of fines or lawsuits.