This year’s fight for your right to repair your own stuff is on, with bills in at least 25 states and public hearings about right to repair in Illinois and Washington State last week.
Right to repair activists are optimistic about 2022. And there was good reason for optimism in last week’s hearing in Washington State about House Bill 1810. What was most exciting about this hearing was actually who wasn’t there: specifically, Microsoft. Microsoft’s headquarters are in Washington State, and every time a right to repair bill has been introduced there before, Microsoft’s lobbyists have been out in full force. This time, though,
1:05:26 Gregerson: “Microsoft is now neutral today, and for us that’s a really big win.”
It’s true, a major electronics manufacturer not fighting against a bill like this is a big deal. Manufacturers have restricted repair to all sorts of things, by controlling access to spare parts, requiring proprietary tools to open cases, and claiming that making repair instructions public would be giving away trade secrets. How to change your phone’s battery shouldn’t be a trade secret. Conveniently, repair restrictions also let manufacturers keep a monopoly on repair, which means they can set prices wherever they like and push you to buy something new instead. And so they’ve usually fought these bills hard.
The Washington bill would require manufacturers to make parts, tools, and repair information available to independent repair shops in January 2023 and to individual consumers in January 2024. The bill, HB1810, has this really succinct title: “Promoting the fair servicing and repair of digital electronic products in a safe, secure, reliable, and sustainable manner to increase access to appropriate and affordable digital products, support small businesses and jobs, and enhance digital connectivity in Washington state.”
Supporters spoke about each of those issues. Rep. Mia Gregerson, the prime sponsor of the bill, explained how the pandemic has made right to repair essential for kids in underserved school districts:
“This bill became even more obvious… gave kids the tech necessary to address the digital divide…they’re missing a day of learning”
President of the School Directors’ Association Sandy Hayes echoed this concern:
“While it appears that we may finally be nearing the end of pandemic we are nowhere near the end of digital divide…
So much student work is done on devices… “homework gap”
“It will take us close to ten years before we have the funds to replace a current device. I am not here to ask you for money … to do minor repairs”
Gregerson explained why Right to Repair is important from an environmental perspective:
“Every day in WA over 8700 phones are thrown in the garbage…”
Cheryl Roe, who runs a company called Interconnection, which helps connect people with refurbished devices instead of buying new. Through this work,
“We diverted 660,786 lbs of e-waste from recycling
80% of the devices that we receive need repair of some kind
Barriers to repair include… these are things that we deal with every day.”
Moji Ijun agrees:
“I work mostly with small businesses and organizations. I was just at a site visit yesterday with a closet full of old printers…Manufacturers have truly restricted our imaginations”
Nicole Walter of Washington Public Interest Research Group agreed,
“Right to repair is about choice… Makes sure that manufacturers are kept honest by… keeping the option of independent repair open…It’s just about choice”
“I, like many other Washingtonians, have had the experience of Apple trying to sell me a phone that I could not afford because the issues with my phone were ‘unfixable’…I now doubt that that was the case”
Mitch Kramer, who started FixCo Cell Phone and Computer Repair out of his bedroom a decade ago, spoke on behalf of independent fixers who are afraid they’re being pushed out:
“As an independent shop owner, you know, I’ve been watching right to repair for years knowing that if we don’t do something different, if we don’t get R2R leg passed, we’re all going to be out of business. That’s thousands of us across the country.”
But it’s more than just repair shop owners who are concerned. Cybersecurity expert Tarah Wheeler spoke about why right to repair is important for all tech employers:
“As an employer in the state of Washington, I need curious minds to explore in tech”
“If manufacturers restrict the right to poke around in their devices, our bright young engineers will have to move to Silicon Valley to understand how iPhones work”
Patrick Connor of the Washington State small business owners association, which represents independent repair shops and manufacturer authorized service centers alike, found that
“Our balloting so far shows 64% of… which is more than a 3:1 margin…encourages the committee to approve it ”
The opposition mostly stuck to the same tired talking points:
“Consumers currently have a variety of professional repair options including independent repair providers or a manufacturer’s authorized repair network”
“Already consumers have a wide range of secure repair options through their authorized repair network”
“Marketplace already provides a wide range of consumer choice for electronic product repair”
Sometimes that’s the choice between one Apple store a hundred miles away and another two hundred miles away. Not much of a choice.
“It would mandate that manufacturers of digital electronic equipment provide unvetted third parties with sensitive diagnostic information, software, tools, and parts.”
You know, sensitive diagnostic information, like the fact that your iPhone has touch disease.
The critics also offered the usual overblown claims about battery safety.
“The temperature of a lithium ion battery during thermal runaway can exceed 600 degrees centigrade and these events can occur due to mechanical damage, improper handling in a poor battery design, inadequate safety for manufacturing defects”
In 2019, the FTC found that manufacturers consistently overstate the risk of thermal runaway.
The FTC unanimously agreed that there was “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”
Charlie Brown of the Consumer Technology Association tried to make it sound like he’d been open to negotiation and repair advocates had been unreasonable:
“We hoped that we might be able to reach some consensus with the advocates nationally… unfortunately unable to get there.”
But when iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens took the mic, he responded to Brown with surprise:
“1.3 million Washingtonians in the last year used iFixit …
Allowing everyone to have access to this is critical …
…don’t think that [disclosing customer records is] a reasonable requirement for a local repair shop.”
Washingtonians across the political spectrum agree, according to new polling shared by Andrew Villenueve, Executive Director of the NW Progressive Institute. The Progressive Institute’s polling asked,
“Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose…
69% of respondents supported said they supported the bill”
“When support is this high…it’s evidence that the idea that we’re researching enjoys robust and broad support across many
Evidence that the support is robust across many groups of voters
Polarized times, but most WA voters can enthusiastically get behind, so we encourage you to give house bill 1810 a “do pass” recommendation and move it forward”
If you’re in Washington State and want to help out, now is the time! Calling or writing your legislators is a great way to make your voice heard. At https://washington.repair.org/, there’s a form for you to email your repair story to your legislators, and a calling system that will connect you directly.
In the European Union, check out repair.eu. In Australia, the Griffith University Law Futures hosts Repair Australia (https://www.griffith.edu.au/law-futures-centre/our-research/repair-australia). In Canada, we love www.CanRepair.ca.
Thanks for your help fighting for right to repair. And happy fixing, everybody!