With five US federal Right to Repair bills under consideration, legislators are starting to pay attention. Yesterday morning, the House held a hearing on Right to Repair. The Small Business Committee invited several advocates to speak in support of repair, including Gay Gordon-Byrne, the Executive Director of the Repair Association; Brian Clark, who runs a data recovery and microsoldering repair shop called iGuys in New Hampshire; and Jim Gerritsen, a farmer from Maine. In the hearing, titled “Right to Repair and What It Means for Entrepreneurs,” they each spoke eloquently about their encounters with repair restrictions and the power of legislation to make positive change in their lives.
Repair restrictions are everywhere, advocates’ testimony made clear. About 90% of products, Gordon-Byrne said, “have been repair monopolized.” Clark pointed out that his customers, like so many around the world, have been told that their devices were unrepairable by manufacturers. “Time and time again we are able to get folks back up and running when they were told by manufacturers that their problem couldn’t be repaired,” Clark explained.
The repair service that iGuys provides is especially important in their rural area, Clark said, because his customers live a half a day’s drive to most manufacturers’ repair centers. Without independent repair, they might miss days of work trying to get repairs done. Gordon-Byrne has experienced the same need for repair in rural upstate New York: “I’m 15 miles from a grocery store. I have to plan ahead. I live in a community where repair is in our DNA, and we really need to be able to do it.”
That rural DIY repair spirit is strong in Gerritsen, who recently passed his organic tomato seed business on to his son. “Long ago,” he said, “we made the strategic decision only to own equipment that we ourselves are able to repair.” His farm runs on older equipment, some of it as seasoned as 50 years old—all owned and repaired by the family themselves. They’ve avoided buying any farm equipment that has software restrictions or other locks, to save themselves from the many problems that farmers have had trying to repair their software-enabled tractors.
The counterargument was represented by the 2022 chairman of the Associated Equipment Distributors, Ken Taylor. Taylor presented many of the same flimsy arguments we’ve heard from manufacturers ad nauseum, about protecting intellectual property and environmental regulations (even though EPA guidelines themselves require manufacturers enable access to independent repair). These arguments were largely debunked by the FTC’s 2021 investigation into Right to Repair, which concluded that “intellectual property rights do not appear to present an insurmountable obstacle to repair” and that “increasing repair options for consumers is harmonious with the responsibilities identified by the EPA.”
This hearing kicks off a season of focusing on the Right to Repair in Congress. The House Rules Committee will also hold a Right to Repair hearing next week, aimed at discussing legislative and budgetary solutions.
We’re glad to see the US Congress listening to repair advocates, and we hope it’s a sign of progress to come. Congress has five opportunities to pass national Right to Repair legislation in the next year—and we’ll be watching. If you’re in the US, you can tell your congressional representatives why Right to Repair matters to you over on Repair.org.
See the full hearing video below.