The House voted 295 to 114 on Tuesday to approve a bill to legalize cell-phone unlocking, which would make it easier for consumers to switch providers without buying a new phone.
But supporters had to override last-minute opposition organized by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo. The Silicon Valley Democrats blasted the bill's author, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, for adding a provision ahead of the vote that would keep the ban in place for bulk unlocking. That provision has the support of CTIA, the lobbying association for cell-phone service providers.
The legislation narrowly achieved the two-thirds support it needed to pass the House under the expedited procedure.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has introduced his own unlocking bill, but an aide said he won't necessarily support the House language on bulk unlocking.
Most contract cell phones come "locked" to one carrier. Because of a decision by the Library of Congress in 2012, customers must obtain their carrier's permission to legally unlock their phones to switch to a competitor — even after they have completed their contract.
The decision was based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which bans people from circumventing a "technological measure" to gain access to a copyrighted work. The library had exempted cell-phone unlocking from the DMCA's restrictions in 2006 and 2010.