The House approved the bill easily, by a 295-114 vote, although
some Democrats had pushed back against what they said was a
last-minute Republican maneuver to change the legislation.
It is not known whether the Senate will consider the bill.
U.S. wireless carriers often tether, or "lock," smartphones to their
networks to encourage consumers to renew their mobile contracts.
Consumers, for their part, can often buy new devices at a heavily
subsidized price in return for committing to long-term contracts
with a single carrier.
Major carriers, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Corp,
T-Mobile US and U.S. Cellular, in December made a voluntary pledge
to make it easier for consumers to unlock their cellphones, under
pressure from consumer groups and the Federal Communications
Under current law, those unlocking their phones without permission
could face legal ramifications, including jail.
The notion of undoing that law has had wide support from Republicans
and Democrats since the bill's introduction in the House in 2013.
But the bill's author, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia
Republican, added language after the bill had been approved by a
partisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee, banning "bulk
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Consumer advocates have argued that customers should be allowed to
sell their old devices to third parties that could unlock phones in
bulk, something the wireless industry opposes.
Four Democrats, led by California Representatives Zoe Lofgren and
Anna Eshoo, wrote to their colleagues on Tuesday to protest the bulk
The new provision "could undercut an important court decision that
protects consumer choice and prevents monopolistic practices. We
cannot in good conscience support a bill that risks giving up so
much for so little gain," the Democrats said.
A consumer rights group, Public Knowledge, last week suspended its
support of the bill.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny and Alina Selyukh; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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