On March 4, 2013, the White House announced that it disagreed with the decision of the Librarian of Congress not to allow consumers to unlock their cell phones to access other mobile networks. The White House took this position in response to a “We The People” petition that gained over 114,000 signatures. With legislation to address this issue pending in Congress, the five largest mobile carriers on December 12, 2013, adopted a voluntary commitment to allow cell phone unlocking after the expiration of a service contract. While this voluntary commitment provides some benefit to consumers, a comprehensive legislative solution may be precluded by the free trade agreements to which the United States is a party. This paper examines the legal background of this matter.
An earlier version was posted previously, but this version has been updated to reflect the debate over the new bulk unlocking language that was added as the bill went to the House floor.