Dem Congressman Proposes Radical Legislation Allowing People To Fix Stuff They Own
Most of us operate under the assumption that if we buy things, they belong to us and we should be able to do what we want with them, that if they break, we should be able to fix them ourselves or take them anywhere we want to get them fixed. This is the case with most things. If I have a dress and the strap comes off, I should be able to sew it back myself or go down to the dry cleaners and pay them to do it. It would be super weird (and inconvenient!) if I had to take it back to the store where I bought it to get it fixed.
Alas, that is the case with electronics and products made with them. Certain phones, cars, tractors, wheelchairs, and increasingly anything with a computer-related component can only be fixed by the manufacturer. An Apple product only be fixed by Apple technicians — they won't sell the parts or give you the schematics needed to fix it, even if you are totally qualified to do it yourself.
On Thursday, Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY) proposed legislation that would change that. While there are right-to-repair laws floating around the legislatures of at least half of the states, the Fair Repair Act would establish a nationalized law, which would certainly make more sense. If people in one state are able to see schematics, it would be difficult to keep that information from reaching other states.
"For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment," Morelle said in an official statement about the bill. "It's long past time to level the playing field, which is why I'm so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve."
People have lots of reasons they want to fix their own things — both cost and geographical inconvenience being major factors. Also, people may like their belongings and wish to keep them working after the company has decided to "no longer support" the model they use, and feel that it is wasteful to get rid of something that should still work.
Companies like Apple claim that they do this not to inconvenience consumers but to protect "trade secrets." However, if someone were truly desperate to get any of Apple's trade secrets that are known to technicians, it probably wouldn't actually be that hard. Sure, Genius Bar employees are required to sign NDAs, but there are a lot of them and there are ways to get people to talk. All you need to break an NDA is enough money to cover however much they'd sue you for.
The fact is, this is about planned obsolescence. It is important to these companies that at some point, any phone or other product they make becomes impossible to keep over a certain number of years, so people have to keep buying new ones. If people can fix their phones or have them fixed, they're going to keep them a lot longer, which is inconvenient for manufacturers. Of course, it's a hell of a lot better for the environment.
It's not just phones for which this is necessary. As Dok explained back in 2015, John Deere won't let farmers fix their own tractors, either — and doing so could make them "software pirates." This also seriously affects Americans with disabilities who rely on electronic medical devices.
Back in April, when Colorado was considering its own right-to-repair bill (which failed), several people shared horrific stories of how being required to have their wheelchairs fixed by a technician deployed by the original manufacturer endangered their health and well-being. One man had to wait 60 days to get his chair fixed, and another person lost the warranty on their wheelchair for calling a handyman to fix it after the original manufacturer's technicians screwed up.
"This company left a friend and colleague for two weeks with a broken tilt, which is necessary to preserve skin integrity, with full knowledge that he has life threatening medical issues caused by pressure sores," she said. "When they finally bothered to show up two weeks later, they failed to fix the problem."
The wheelchair had a visible wire loose and the [friend] had a handyman fix it. When the wheelchair manufacturer found out, it voided his warranty. Had he not had his handyman do it, "he would have gone to the hospital or worse," she said.
No one should have to live like that. That is cruel. Unfortunately the Colorado bill did not pass, because lawmakers claimed they still had too many questions. Oddly enough, they did not bother to ask any of those many, many questions during the hearing.
This legislation is the kind of thing most Americans would want. It is, in fact, hard to imagine anyone not affiliated with (or being paid off by) a large corporation who would oppose it. Unfortunately, these bills keep failing because those corporations are lobbying fiercely to stop them and we're not doing enough to make it embarrassing for legislators who just go along with them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse