Update: August 1, 2014
Earlier today, President Obama signed into law the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, making the act of unlocking your unsubsidized cell phone 100% legal.
According to the White House, "the bill not only restores the rights of consumers to unlock their phones, but ensures that they can receive help doing so if they lack the technological savvy to unlock on their own."
Chalk this one as a major victory for consumers, and one of the now seemingly rare cases of our government coming together for the good of the people.
While this may have seemed like a no-brainer freedom, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress reversed a previous allowance of this practice—going against advice from the White House (in the form of a NTIA letter)—citing the current "ease" of unlocking phones.
That reasoning completely missed the mark, and if you've tried to take a device from one carrier to another in the past, you know just how difficult it can be. Luckily for us, the White House was always on our side, and with the help of Congress, we're now close to having unhindered unlocking a reality.
Senator Patrick Leahy was our champion in Congress, and now both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.
"I thank the House for moving so quickly on the bill we passed in the Senate last week and for working in a bipartisan way to support consumers. The bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act puts consumers first, promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace, and encourages continued use of existing devices," Leahy said.
Only thing left is for President Obama to sign his support for the bill, which will happen in short order. As the President stated, "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. 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."
One thing to keep in mind is that this legislation in no way will get you out of your carrier's contract, at least not without an early termination fee. But for those who are out of contract or paid the full, unsubsidized price for a device, you'll now have the freedom, and Congressional and Executive backing, to take that device to whichever carrier you prefer.