The FTC Finally Jumps on The Right to Repair Legislation

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The right to repair movement finally seems to be gaining traction in its move to move the “right to repair” legislation. This is after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a workshop called the “Nixing The Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions.”

The workshop shed a lot of light on how manufacturers restrict repairs of items owned by the consumers. Experts gave testimonies of how manufacturers do this and highlighted the need for the FTC to intervene.

Nathan Proctor who is the director of the right to repair campaign cited examples of how huge manufacturers like Apple and Deree & Co. makers of John Deere Tractors make it difficult for consumers to get repairs done on their products. Apple for instance uses proprietary screws on their Iphones which are not sold to repair shops.

In his presentation, Proctor noted that devices are being engineered to make them extremely difficult or even impossible to repair. Further, he said warranties restrictions make authorization for repair “cumbersome, lengthy and usually expensive.” In his presentation he also presented evidence suggesting that repair was five times more profitable than sale of new equipment for John Deere Tractors.

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John Deere is not the only one who pointed out that companies restrict third party repairs to monopolize. Jennifer Larson CEO of Vibrant Technologies said that over the past two decades OEMs have become very hostile to third party maintainers and were doing everything possible to control the lifecycle of their devices.

She explained how for instance working servers for corporates end up in landfills due to restrictions in firmware and licensing if they cannot be scrapped for parts. Apple and John Deere amongst other companies have fought small third party repair shops in legal battles over the years.

Farmers that own John Deere tractors are forced to seek repair services from “authorized technicians who are usually far flung and expensive. The company even goes further to state that you can never really “own” one of their tractors because of the software they have used.

Another expert, Theresa McDonough who is the owner of a third party cell phone and computer repair shop said the restrictions on repairs are extremely expensive for the people she serves in Vermont and especially when their devices are out of warranty. The restrictions coerce people to buy new devices or pay so much for repairs which could have been done affordable by others or themselves.

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Other ways in which manufacturers interfere with repairs according to the presentation given by Proctor include; using unfamiliar screw heads, refusal to provide repair guides, software locks, lack of diagnostic software to identify issues quickly, failure to provide original repair parts and tools. The barriers are so many for consumers to fix their items which really inhibits the right to own purchased items.

Consumer safety concerns

In their defense, representatives of the manufacturers cited safety concerns as the main reason why they restrict third party repairs. George Kirchner of the rechargeable battery association (PRBA) stated that allowing repair of devices could lead to “mishandling of lithium ion batteries and consumer products which would exacerbate fire risks.”

However, the representatives of the manufacturers were not able to truly justify their safety claims. Aaron Lowe, a representative for independent auto mechanics stated that independent mechanics have been repairing the most dangerous products consumers own, their cars without the risks being claimed.

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They were also unable to explain why they don’t make safety and technical information available so third party repairers can work safely. Gordon Bryne dismissed the safety claims given by the manufacturers stating that they are used to scare hamper repair legislations and increased repair competition.

She stated “the cure for unsafe products is more repair. The cure for getting rid of faulty parts is more repair not less.”

It’s all about monopoly for higher gains

Proctor noted that manufacturers enter into contractual relationships with authorized shops that dictate the terms of operation of those businesses. Gordon Byrne hammered the point home by saying that “it’s not about security, it’s just about money.”

The manufacturers restrict repairs thereby forcing consumers to purchase their products when they reached the forced end of their lifecycle. Others like John Deere tractors make lots of money directly from repairs and selling parts. Requiring that customers must go to certain repair shops is in fact monopolizing repairs, which is against consumer rights.

The right to repair movement continues to grow as more consumers and small businesses continue to realize there is a problem. The FTC hearing brought much needed attention to the issue but there is still a lot that needs to be done to regulate the repair industry. Consumer rights need to be better protected as industry giants continue to protect their vested interests and eroding those rights through restrictive EULAs.

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