Almost everyone wants the right to repair the stuff we own, and Congress is now one step closer to making it law. Today, for the first time ever, both houses of the U.S. Congress are considering an electronics Right to Repair law.
The Senate Fair Repair Act was introduced today by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D, New Mexico), Cynthia Lummis (R, Wyoming), and Ron Wyden (D, Oregon). The bill is the Senate version of the House Fair Repair Act, introduced last June by Congressman Joe Morelle (D, New York). The Fair Repair Act would make parts, tools, and repair documentation available to independent repair shops and consumers.
Though the bills have small differences in the wording of definitions, both have the same effect: If they pass, manufacturers won’t be able to maintain their monopolies on repair. One big difference is that the Senate bill is bipartisan, cosponsored by a Democrat and a Republican. This support reflects the fact that people across the political spectrum want access to repair: Survey after survey after survey shows majority support across all political groups for right to repair legislation. Bipartisan members of congress introduced a right to repair bill in the House last month, aiming to create a permanent exemption to copyright law for repair.
Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO, said, “We should all be able to fix what we own, and the Fair Repair Act takes a huge step toward a more repairable future. It’s good for small independent repair businesses, great for the planet, and even better for people who need their smartphone screens fixed. The iFixit community has been demanding this solution for decades: Manufacturers should make parts, tools, and repair information available to everyone who needs to fix their gadgets.”
Enacting a federal fair repair law could have real impact, and it’s needed now. A Consumer Reports survey published last month found that more than 1 in 5 people have replaced a smartphone sooner than they’d like because they weren’t able to find someone to repair it. Other survey respondents pointed to a lack of repair parts and too-expensive repairs, all of which should be addressed by the Fair Repair Act.
The bills also include the tools necessary to reset digital locks as part of a repair, something especially key to phone and computer refurbishing. Often, when companies and government agencies decommission laptops, they will destroy the computers’ hard drives and leave some low-level hardware locks in place (for instance, the BIOS password). Restoring a laptop to full functionality requires getting into these kinds of locks, which is why they’re so important for reducing e-waste. Not all right to repair laws include the tools and information necessary to reset locks—but they should, just as the Fair Repair Act does.
Medical devices are excluded from this bill, unfortunately. A lack of access to service manuals or spare parts shouldn’t keep hospital equipment down, which is why we started a medical device repair database in May 2020. Still, we’re hopeful that a narrower focus on consumer electronics issues will clear the pathway for this legislation.
Of course, addressing all consumer electronics isn’t exactly narrow in its scope, as Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of the Repair Association, pointed out. “Everyone that eats, makes phone calls, uses a refrigerator or goes to school has a reason to support this essential legislation,” Gordon-Byrne said. “As we know from our own years of advocacy and research, there are no good reasons for manufacturers to prevent repair, only weak excuses offered in support of illegal monopolies. It’s time to restore the option of competition for repair services around the nation. We thank Senator Lujan for his leadership on this important effort.”
“It’s common-sense: When something breaks you fix it,” Nathan Proctor, said Senior Director of Right to Repair Campaign for U.S. PIRG. “But when only the manufacturer or their authorized shop can fix your device, they can charge as much as they want and force you into buying an upgrade. It’s time to remove manufacturer-imposed barriers to repair and get back to fixing things like we’ve always done. We are proud to support this bipartisan, pro-environment, pro-consumer, and pro-small business bill.”
The Fair Repair Act is just one of many right to repair laws in consideration this year: There are also federal US bills addressing agriculture and copyright restrictions on repair. 19 US states have considered or are considering right to repair laws, ranging from a bill in Colorado addressing powered wheelchairs to agricultural bills in Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and Missouri. An automotive right to repair law was introduced in Canada last month. The European Union commission is seeking public comments about the importance of repair, and the Australian Government is working toward a legislative response to their similar inquiry last year.
Wherever you are in the world, you can support right to repair laws by telling your government officials why repair matters to you. In the US, head to Repair.org; in the EU, check out Repair.eu; in Canada, see CanRepair.
All great news! Can’t wait to see EVERY country have repairable devices!
One area which is lacking sadly, is the devices firmware/software maintenance! What should be the lifespan of hardware is now often tied to the firmware/software that runs on it.
What is the life of the device if it can’t be used without risk online? Or when a weakness is discovered and not patched?
Dan - Antwoord
Great point, Dan. This is a particularly huge issue with Chromebooks, which are basically bricked after 8 years. Many Right to Repair bills include provisions for firmware/software access and maintenance, but not all. Even when hardware Right to Repair passes, there will be work to do.
Elizabeth Chamberlain -
I would not expect to see this. Mandating that devices be reparable is one thing, but addressing that problem would require companies to spend money on actively developing for products they no longer make or otherwise support. The longer it goes since a product was actively developed the harder this becomes. It’s one thing to say the devices have to be available for other people to repair and modify at their own risk, but adding firmware to this would be mandating that companies continue to expend their own resources on things that they no longer develop and that they may no longer have the capability to develop for as technical standards move on.
At some point it’s not effective to maintain things anymore. If you have a 10-year-old device, for example, there might be no effective way to bring it up to compliance with modern requirements.
Arle Lommel -
Light went out on my Sharp microwave. Not accessible from the oven itself. Had to remove 4 “security” screws. And then it's not a standard lightbulb. It's mated to a plastic base which is in turn held in position by two plastic stakes and a locking tab. Electrical connections are via bare spade lugs. Hopefully the bulb I found on the internet will fit and work.
That's a lot of hassle just to replace a light bulb. Couldn't it just screw in?
John Birkland - Antwoord
Ridiculous! How many security screws, plastic stakes, and locking tabs does it take to change a lightbulb? It sounds like a joke. Thanks for the comment. I’m sure I’ll be telling your story.
Elizabeth Chamberlain -