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Should consumers have the Right to Repair their own devices?

Consumers commonly spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on electronics like computers and laptops, phones, tablets, TVs, and projectors. Even though these products belong to the consumer that bought them, if any of this technology breaks or needs to be repaired, most of the time the end-user is hindered by restricted access to tools, components, and software barriers.

A newly enacted bill in New York City, the Digital Fair Repair Act, is a new spin on an old concept where consumers have been fighting for the right to repair household items from automobiles to medical equipment to electronics. With the implementation of this new bill, consumers in New York will now have the right to repair their own electronics – and New York became the first state to enact a Right to Repair law.

Right to Repair

The “right to repair” refers to the concept that if you own something, you should be able to repair it yourself or take it to a technician of your choice. However, this isn’t the case with most current consumer electronics.

Imagine you bought an iPhone a few years ago, but the battery is beginning to degrade or the charging port isn’t working properly anymore. Now your only options are to use Apple Care (if your subscription is still active) or to take your phone to a third-party repair service. The problem is, these services can cost a lot more than the parts and equipment necessary to fix your phone in the first place – and Apple Care doesn’t even cover batteries, broken ports, defects caused by normal wear and tear, and more.

Although technically American consumers are already allowed to repair whatever they buy (thanks to the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act), people often lack the capability to get the information or parts necessary to perform these repairs. The Repair Association, a right-to-repair advocacy group, has several policy objectives which can either be incorporated with laws or require a shift in buyer expectations. Some of these objectives are:

– Make information accessible: This proposes that everyone should have reasonable access to manuals, schematics, and software updates. Furthermore, software licenses need to provide support options and make clear what is included in the sale.

– Make parts and tools available: The parts and tools necessary to service devices should be available to third parties, including individuals.

– Allow unlocking: Previously referred to as “jailbreaking”, the government should legalize unlocking, adapting, or modifying a device so the owner can install custom software.

– Accommodate the repair in the design: Devices should be designed in a way that makes repairs possible for consumers.

Computer repair

Why do people need the right to repair?

With more and more products that aren’t easily repairable coming on the market, including some products that can’t even be opened up without destroying them, it’s important that consumers have the right to repair their electronics as we move forward.

Whether it is intentional or not, manufacturers use a lot of different tricks that make repairs difficult for consumers, like using proprietary screws, declining to publish repair documentation, or gluing parts together. 

Although there are websites dedicated to selling repair tools, teardowns, and repair documents, a single company or handful of organizations can’t make enough documentation to cover the vast amount of new products coming onto the market.

Consumer-advocacy groups aren’t the only ones in favor of the right to repair for consumers, climate activists also agree that with increased repairability the world will see less e-waste. After all, you can’t make a device last if you can’t make it work.

Who are the top offenders when it comes to making repairs difficult? While Apple finally opened its iPhone parts and tools to third-party repair shops in 2019, many other companies have yet to follow suit. 

For example, if you took a cracked Samsung S11 to your local repair shop, odds are they would be able to fix it, but they’d tell you that the fix will cost so much money that you shouldn’t bother. Why is this? Because independent repair shops don’t have access to all of the diagnostic tools and other information necessary to properly repair these devices in a timely manner, which means official Samsung repair shops would always have the competitive advantage in this case.

On top of that, there is plenty of evidence that if companies want to make something repairable, they will. Just take Microsoft with the Surface Laptop 3 – they improved the repairability of the device from the previous model (Surface 2) without changing the core design.

Buyers are increasingly taking for granted that what they buy can be repaired, and this is becoming less and less common as devices and household equipment become more complex. However, right-to-repair legislation would establish a set of rules that promote repairability practices throughout a wide variety of industries – including consumer technology, agriculture equipment, and medical equipment.

When manufacturers are required to sell replacement parts and make repair documentation available, consumers will have a much easier time extending the life of the products that they buy.

Is there a case against the right to repair?

While a lot of good can come from enacting right-to-repair laws, some companies like Facebook, Toyota, Verizon, Apple, and more have lobbied against right-to-repair legislation, citing security risks from giving criminals access to technical information, safety risks from unauthorized repairs, and risks to intellectual property as their main concerns.

However, since we haven’t seen examples of these security risks in practice, some cybersecurity experts disagree with the claims manufacturers are making about the risk of consumer repairs.

When will consumers have the right to repair their electronics?

Although we’re not sure when consumers will have full rights to repair any of their devices, there is legislation put in place that encourages independent repairs. 

While the Digital Repair Act has already been approved in New York, giving consumers and independent repairers the right to repair their consumer electronics, there is also federal legislation on the table.

There is an executive order that covers consumer protections related to airlines and broadband, but also focuses on one part of the right-to-repair objective: independence and DIY repairs. A fact sheet accompanying the order says: “(it) [e]ncourages the FTC to limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs—such as when tractor companies block farmers from repairing their own tractors.” However, how this will be interpreted by the FTC is yet to be seen, but on July 21 the FTC will vote on whether to issue a new policy statement and, if approved, will offer us a better idea of when the right to repair for all consumers could be possible.

Additionally, right-to-repair legislation has been making it through at least 25 states and one national bill has been filed in Congress – and most agree that state and federal laws are still necessary even with an executive order.

It seems those who advocate right-to-repair laws won’t stop pushing until consumers have the right to repair their own devices. But when will that be? Hopefully soon.

Need a repair?

Not everyone wants to repair their own devices, that’s one of the many reasons why companies like ours exist.

Computer Service Now is happy to provide on-site services to businesses in the Southwest Ohio region. You need to be able to spend more time growing your business and less time worrying about your office equipment – that’s where the experts at Computer Service Now can help. Our computer services, including computer repair, upgrades, tune-ups, and much more offer you an easy and hassle-free option to keep your office computers running smoothly.

With our high level of customer service and satisfaction, Computer Service Now works hard to be the premier IT firm in the Cincinnati and Dayton region. We offer a wide variety of IT solutions that stay within your budget. For IT-related projects big and small, our experience, expertise, and variety of services allow us to provide the support you need to meet your business needs. Contact us today at 513-422-1907 or visit our website to learn more about our variety of services that allow us to provide the support you need to keep your business running smoothly.

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