CU urges lawmakers to give consumers the keys to unlock mobile phones in house testimony

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Consumers Union Urges Lawmakers to Give Consumers the Keys to Unlock Mobile Phones in House Testimony

WASHINGTON, DC – In testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee Thursday, Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging lawmakers to give consumers more control over their mobile devices by restoring the ability to “unlock” mobile phones for use on other wireless communications networks.

George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, in his testimony highlights the fact that consumer choice is on the losing end of the Copyright Office’s decision to ban unlocking, while benefiting carriers and device manufacturers.

“Any way you look at it, this reversal on unlocking is a bad deal for consumers but a boon for providers, who lock consumers in to long-term bundled contracts, and manufacturers who see an artificially inflated demand for new devices through the forced retirement of perfectly good used phones,” said George Slover. “If consumers could shop for the best deal on each of these purchases separately, they would get lower prices, improved quality, and greater innovation and variety.”

The legal protection for unlocking had earlier been granted as a clarifying exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as implemented by the Copyright Office, but the Copyright Office removed the exception last October, effective in January.

Consumers have continuously expressed their desire to be able to take their devices to a new service provider. The testimony points to a 2011 Consumer Reports survey that found that of consumers with long-term wireless service contracts, 96 percent said they should be able to keep their existing handsets when changing carriers.  For those with smart phones, the number was even higher – 98 percent.

The consumer group urged lawmakers to find a solution to the issue, while noting several pieces of legislation currently pending in Congress. Consumers Union also encouraged House members to incorporate clarifications to ensure that the exemption provides full protection in today’s world.

Slover said, “In one fell swoop, unlocking your cell phone went from consumer right to felony. But this has nothing to do with copyright infringement in any traditional sense. We urge lawmakers to take the steps necessary to reverse this decision now, and ensure that mobile phones can’t be put on lockdown again in the future.”

The hearing before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet is scheduled to begin today at 10 AM. For more information, visitwww.judiciary.house.gov.

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