Right to Repair & the Fair Repair Act
Even for the most seasoned IT experts, repairing modern electronic devices can be a challenge. Historically, many prominent manufacturers have attempted to discourage consumers from repairing certain products by obscuring their schematics and pumping misleading information into the public domain. For example, they say things like “replacing the battery could damage the integrity of the device.”
H.F. 1138: the Beginning of a New Era
Earlier this year, the Minnesota House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee managed to pass H.F. 1138, a bill that requires all electronic device manufacturers to give independent repair shops and device owners (i.e., anyone who purchases the product in question) the same schematics and diagnostic materials as their authorized repair centers. In addition to ensuring their products are compatible with generic diagnostic devices, they would have to share technical information—including information pertaining to replacement parts—about devices such as computers, smart home products, cameras, smartphones, and much more.
This Bill is Not the First of Its Kind
Although similar legislation has been introduced by more than 20 states, including Oregon and California, it has consistently failed to pass. However, if H.F. 1138 does end up passing in Minnesota, consumers will have easy access to schematics and other technical resources that will enable them to safely repair their devices and sidestep the indefensible prices demanded by authorized repair centers.
Here's What Proponents Say
Proponents have labeled H.F. 1138 as the Fair Repair bill and have quickly organized in opposition to a coalition of device manufacturers who have declared opposition to the bill. They have responded to claims that authorized repair centers ensure consumer safety by questioning the manufacturers’ underlying motives, citing the astronomical prices. They claim that when a device stops working, it is in the manufacturer’s best interest to be the only source for repair. Basic economics validate this point: by restricting the flow of information, manufacturers can set whatever repair prices they want, completely alienating the consumer from the process.
Fortunately, some strong voices in Washington agree. In March of this year, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, proposed a sweeping right to repair law for farming equipment. Her idea comes from a Massachusetts law that was passed in 2012 that required automakers to provide schematics and technical information pertaining to their vehicles so that consumers could make repairs. Additionally, the law also mandated that newer cars must be compatible with common diagnostic tools, which effectively minimized the manufacturer’s ability to price gouge and made life easier for consumers.
While many agree that Warren’s ideas are right on the money, some say they could go even further—which is precisely where H.F. 1138 aims to take Minnesotans. After all, don’t the owners and operators of electronic products deserve the same legal protections as our farmers? Some of these manufacturers would say no.
Some Manufacturers Have Already Taken a Stand Against Right to Repair
Companies like John Deere and Apple have taken steps to make it harder for consumers to repair their products. In the case of the former, John Deere ensures constant oversight by requiring electronic verification for all replacement parts. This means that instead of just purchasing replacement parts and installing them manually, farmers have to wait weeks or months for a certified technician to repair their mechanical equipment.
None of this is to suggest that manufacturers haven’t made concessions. Apple has announced that they will no longer void iPhone warranties if the screens are repaired by third party entities. They even went as far as installing screen repair machines in 30 stores owned by Simply Mac. John Deere has also announced a plan to make manuals and software available for sale in the next two years.
The Savings = Considerable
When proponents say H.F. 1138 will save consumers considerable sums of money, they aren’t just pulling the assertion from the ether—the numbers are there to back it up. A 2011 study discovered that independent auto repair shops saved consumers 24 percent more than dealers. In the tech world, a company like Apple can charge anywhere north of $250 to fix one of their iPhones, while tech savvy repair shops can get the job done for as little as $200, albeit without the official schematics and documentation.
Here's What Opponents Say
Opponents fear the bill does not consider the complexities of the products in question. For example, Minnesota senator Gary Dahms (from Redwood Falls) said, “The manufacturers are putting their warranties on the line versus somebody who justwants to do the repairs. I don’t think we’re ready in Minnesotato fix everything from smoke detectors to commercial aircraft.”
Similarly, others are echoing Dahms’ cries, claiming that sharing schematic information paves the way for a multitude of privacy and security issues. Additionally, the claim that it will make future product security issues more difficult to tackle and dampen repair programs manufacturers have already instilled (albeit at greater financial cost to the consumer).
Right to Repair is Already a Staple in Other Industries
As we touched on above, right to repair is not a new concept. It has applied to automobiles for quite some time, hence why we can all take our Ford pickup trucks to our favorite local mechanic. If you’ve ever paid attention when you’re at the repair shop, you will have noticed that the mechanics have the same diagnostic and service information as the dealership. After initial auto right to repair laws were passed, subsequent legislation cemented its legitimacy and ensured it was here to stay.
Unfortunately, in contrast to the auto industry, the tech industry is an entirely separate animal. In addition to dealing with safety concerns, there are also privacy concerns that will have to be addressed. However, H.F. 1138 is a huge step in the right direction and the initiatory declaration needed to ensure our technical right to repair.
If you believe that repairing your electronic devices should be affordable and are looking for ways to get involved and support this cause, reach out to your local legislator by telephone, mail, or email and let them know you support the Fair Repair Act.