House Passes Bill to Allow Cellphone 'Unlocking'

Image: Cellphone users
An online petition submitted to the White House last year asked that consumers be able to legally unlock their phones. Ben Margot / Associated Press

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow you to legally "unlock" your cellphone so that it can be used with any carrier.

The vote was 295-114, with 95 Democrats joining 200 Republicans in favor of the measure. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act would repeal a rule put in place in 2012 that stopped consumers from unlocking their cellphones to use on other carriers. The bill would also allow consumers to seek help from others to unlock phones without breaking the law.

According to the sponsors, the bill was the result of an online petition submitted to the White House in 2013 that asked that consumers be able to legally unlock their phones.

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 Commission.

Under current law, those unlocking their phones without permission could face legal ramifications, including jail.

— NBC News' Frank Thorp and Reuters contributed to this report.