A prominent victory for electronics recycling and refurbishment as the Senate recently passed the cell phone unlocking bill.
This back-and-forth, year and a half long debate on how to upend the Librarian of Congress’ 2012 decision to ban cell phone unlocking has thankfully settled in favor of bulk unlocking.
The final version of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, passed July 25, is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. It allows consumers to unlock their phones as well as bulk unlocking for refurbishment and resale — a key provision that was left out of the Senate version of the bill passed July 15.
Nothing, however, is necessarily set in stone. The bill that President Obama is about to sign only overturns the Copyright Office’s 2012 ruling on cell-phone unlocking. The Librarian of Congress will again review in 2015 whether unlocking other mobile devices is permissible under Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It does, however, moves us closer to alleviating any confusion stemming from the Copyright Office’s 2012 decision.
The voice of the scrap recycling industry, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), firmly believes the lift of the unlocking ban will increase cell phone refurbishment and remarketing, while suppressing potential e-waste stream. ISRI President, Robin Wiener, commented, “We are very pleased that the legal right for recyclers and refurbishers to bulk unlock cell phones has been restored.”
According to ISRI, the U.S. is the only country that prohibits recyclers from unlocking electronic devices and returning them to market for reuse.
Copyright law has previously prohibited cell phone recyclers and refurbishers with the intent of extending the life of these devices from unlocking bulk lots of mobile devices.
Many cell phones come “locked” to a particular network. Unlocking a cell phone allows the owner to switch providers without buying a new phone.
Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) had opposed the provision allowing bulk unlockings, calling to mind the voluntary efforts of the wireless industry to support consumer unlockings. CTIA’s members committed to a set of voluntary principles that enable consumers interested in unlocking their devices to do so.
Unlocked phones are extremely valuable, which is why carriers want to protect their investments in the subsidies. However, cell phone refurbishers also want the chance to extend the life of the devices.
The recent lift of the unlocking ban is a significant step in the right direction for the reuse and refurbishment of cell phones as long as the bulk provision is included. Refurbished cell phones appeal to customers because they are typically remarketed as unlocked and are sold at a discounted price compared to being purchased unlocked from a carrier.
IT asset management providers and cell phone recyclers will now be able to utilize the unlocked phones, send the devices through certified data erasure, and refurbish and remarket them in the U.S., as well as abroad where they are in high demand.