Right to repair. Photo: The Recycler
Right to repair. Photo: The Recycler

The right-to-repair legislation History

Really it goes back the '90s, when electronics started moving into all of the products that we have. As a result, the assumption that we've been able to repair everything has been diminished. So, in reaction to this, Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative in 2012 for cars that said: If you want to be able to fix your own car, you want to be able to take it to a local mechanic, the manufacturers cannot stop you. They have to provide the information, parts and tools that you need, according to Protocol.

That kicked off a wave of broader electronics right-to-repair legislation, where repair.org, iFixit and others have been trying to get that passed ever since. And we've gotten very close, but it hasn't passed yet.

About Right-to-repair legislation

What seems like a small change approved by Massachusetts voters to expand access to motor vehicle data could have massive implications for the repair industry nationwide, and for a variety of product manufacturers.

The ballot initiative, approved by 75 percent of the state's voters, requires car makers to wirelessly share information they collect about a vehicle's status. That information, known as telematics, can help auto mechanics anticipate and fix problems. The effort is an expansion of a 2012 law that requires automakers to provide the same data to independent repair shops as they do dealerships.

As everything from cars to refrigerators to phones become increasingly computerized, manufacturers have sought to restrict repairs because of safety and intellectual property infringement concerns. As a result, consumers are effectively locked into dealers or original manufacturers for repairs, which some complain is inconvenient and costly because of the lack of competition.

On the surface, the scope of the Massachusetts law is narrow: A technical change for a single industry in a single state. Yet it signals growing interest in so-called right-to-repair laws, which have been introduced in 20 state legislatures as a means for easing some of the restrictions on the broader repair industry. Specifically, the effort asks manufacturers of all stripes to provide equal access to repair manuals, tools, service parts, and software.

It also poses challenges for manufacturers of a range of products, according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the Repair Association, a group focused on right-to-repair legislation. "What it does is reinforces the public awareness that manufacturers are screwing everyone over," she says.

When Does it come into force?

Right to Repair Bill: When it Come Into Force, How Big Tech Reacts
Photo: Inc. Magazine

The new legislation, which originates from the EU, will come into force this summer and will mean that manufacturers have to make appliances such as fridges and dishwashers last longer and supply spares for them for up to 10 years after they have gone to market.

This means that consumer will have the legal right to expect a repair on appliances during that 10-year period that spares are required to be made available.

Why did the old rule not apply anymore?

Because the old rule was a wired diagnostic interface. So if you plug into the car, you still have access to that information. But the manufacturers, everything they're doing going forward is all going to be wireless. And that's how Teslas work. Tesla is constantly sending updates to your car.

How Big Tech reacts

FTC, House Judiciary start investigating On Our Lead

The FTC held a formal workshop in July that explored restrictions on repair, how consumers experience those barriers, and how manufacturers argue against repair. I was a featured panelist.

We highlighted the various barriers to repair, and also how manufacturers often deny warranty claims for anyone with an independently repaired device, although federal laws generally forbid such denials. Read more coverage of the event.

The House Judiciary committee has also started looking into whether large tech companies -- including Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon -- are committing potentially actionable anti-trust violations. My questions on Right to Repair were included in those proceedings, and the issues raised were included in questions sent by Rep. David Cicilline to Apple. Apple responded to those questions in November, and their responses further increased the scrutiny on how they discourage or block repair.

Apple and Microsoft make changes

Apple and Microsoft have long opposed Right to Repair, and have both received criticism for their efforts to stop Right to Repair reforms from going forward (Microsoft in Washington, Apple in California).

Apple announced a new program in late August that will, for the first time, allow independent repair shops to get access to Apple parts and repair tools. More repair options will mean more things get fixed, but as I told Vice's Motherboard, “It’s a direct reversal, but big questions remain.”

This fall, Microsoft debuted a new line of Surface products which featured a new modular repairable design. Considering that iFixit gave the 2017 Surface Pro a zero rating on its repairability, this is a dramatic shift. Meanwhile, Apple’s latest desktop computers are also much more repairable than previous editions.

Why? Forbes recently wrote: "...we’re starting to wonder: maybe Microsoft and Apple aren’t making devices more repairable just for fun (or for us)—maybe those Right to Repair bills are starting to look seriously scary?"

New York Times pens pro Right to Repair editorial

After speaking with Gay Gordon-Byrne of Repair.org and me, the New York Times published a fantastic editorial in favor of Right to Repair in the Sunday, April 7, edition. Binyamin Appelbaum wrote for the editorial board:

"An open marketplace for repairs benefits consumers, independent retailers and the environment. Modern devices are increasingly complicated; that concept is not."

The New York Times editorial built off of endorsements for Right to Repair from prominent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA). As I told Vice News' Motherboard, which was the first national outlet to cover Sen. Warren's support, “Right to Repair is a no-brainer, and with 20 states working on active legislation so far this year, it's no surprise that it's getting talked about on the national stage. We should be able to fix our stuff.”

Right to Repair expanding globally

The lack of a right to repair transcends boundaries, so we’re not just fighting back in the United States. A new Right to Repair coalition launched in Europe and notched some victories, and coalitions are growing in Canada, Australia and South Africa as well.

The European campaign has slightly different policy vehicles than our state campaigns in the U.S. I wrote for OneZero about why those differences are important, and increase pressure on manufacturers to address issues of durability and repairability quickly, as cited by Upspirg.

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