US States Considering Legislation to Introduce ‘Right to Repair’ for Electronics
Multiple US states have introduced bills aimed at establishing a user’s “right to repair” for electronic devices, in the spirit of the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act that was passed by the US Congress in late 2013.
That law forced automakers to provide the same information to independent repair shops as they do for dealer shops, allowing users to choose where they could repair their cars.
Manufacturer locked down devices and created small monopolies
The law was a resounding success and inspired the Electronic Frontier Foundation to start pushing for a similar law for electronic devices, whose vendors created monopolies in the repair market by locking down devices with software, using custom hardware parts not available for sale anywhere, and not sharing a device’s technical manual.
This prevented device users from being able to tinker with their devices and kept independent repair shops out of a specific device’s repair market. For example, to this day, only Apple employees can and are allowed to open and repair iPhones.
Even worse, the owners of those devices and any repair shop tinkering with electronics without the vendor’s specific consent also risked breaking the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“The end result: […] medical clinics must waste scarce resources on expensive repair contracts rather than patient care,” the EFF explains. “Independent repair shops are driven out of business. And the electronic waste piles up, as users discard their devices rather then fixing them or donating them for re-use.”
These are also the arguments of politicians and small lobby groups behind these new “right to repair” electronics bills, as you can read from the proposed New York bill below.
Currently, repair of digital items are intentionally limited by the manufacturer. Manufacturers will require consumers to pay for repair services through their repair division or manufacturer-authorized repairers. The practices by manufacturers essentially create a monopoly on these repair services. These limited authorized channels result in inflated, high repair prices and high overturn of electronic items. Another concern is the large amount of electronic waste created by the inability to affordably repair broken electronics. Lack of competition in the digital repair industry creates. High costs to consumers, businesses and government operations. This bill will open the market of digital repair to competition.
Five states pushing for “right to repair” electronics bills
This month alone, five US states have pushed such bills. The list includes Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, and Kansas. According to Motherboard, Wyoming is currently debating a similar law, but which only mentions farming equipment and not electronics in general.
The bills face a long road ahead of them. It took ten years to get an autovehicles “right to repair” bill through in one state, but once one bill was approved, automakers decided to support efforts to expand the bill to all 50 states to avoid having to support 50 different set of rules.