Did the EU just create Right to Repair for Appliances?

Yes and No.

Appliance and TV makers are going to be making some big changes in order to sell into the EU.  The media has applauded these new regulations as “Right to Repair”.  While a positive step its still wildly less than we need.   The standard is tightly limited to products that use a lot of energy, and far from all products.  A consumer will buy a computer monitor with different rights than buying a personal computer.  Farmers will be able to fix their welding equipment but not their tractors. 

Even more problematic is the dictat that only “Competent” parties can acquire the means to make repairs. Manufacturers have managed to insert the requirement that buyers of repair parts be “competent”.  It’s unknown who gets to decide on competence, and absent any official standard its likely to fall only to the “Authorized” technicians.  This is a giant hole and reinforces the need for legislation with solid ownership principles.

Are some consumers potentially inept?  Probably.  While many suggest there is a choice about which bodies get to decide on competence, the answer already exists:   The owner.  In our system of ownership law dating back centuries, buying things transfers responsibility entirely from the manufacturer to the owner.  Even if legislators, regulators and lobbyists in opposition to right to repair infer otherwise, the owner is in control.  Not a single opponent to right to repair has proven otherwise.

For example, millions of consumers are fixing their cars and driving the roads along side of cars repaired by “competent” technicians.  We don’t fear consumer repair of cars, which are far more physically dangerous to operate than a refrigerator or vacuum cleaner. GM and Ford aren’t testing and certifying consumers before selling parts.  If they did – they’d be more likely to be sued for incompetent personal injury than they are today.  OEMS do NOT want the responsibility of control that is being suggested.

These changes are unlikely to come over to US markets.  US consumers are going to buying poorly made, un-repairable costly appliances for years to come.  Maybe a couple of OEMS will decide to make only one repairable version for both markets, but its easy enough to sell different products to different markets.   Its only the beginning and not the end of our fight for our right to repair.

Nixing the Fix - the FTC Examines Right to Repair

July 16 was a watershed moment for the Right to Repair Movement. The FTC didn’t question IF repair is being monopolized — they asked why OEMS were so determined to monopolize and what they should do about it.

It was great fun for us as OEMS didn’t land a single point in support of repair monopolies. The only actual reason to block repair is money — and thats been viewed as PR suicide. So opposition continues to hide behind projections of consumer harm and cyber security risk which were addressed at the Workshop.

Panel #1 asked if repairs are being monopoized and it that is hurting consumers. That was a piece of cake to prove and Walter Alcorn of CTA didn’t make a single point in rebuttal.

Panel # 2 asked why manufacturers are monopolizing repair and asked for specific reasons. For our part it was easy to make the point that there aren’t any reasons, just excuses. All the excuses lead to money.

Its cheaper to make things that cannot be fixed by choosing glue over mechanical fasteners. Its less costly to host repair documentation diagnostics and patches on the internet than to print or ship them. Its an unlimited opportunity to rig the price of repair to either make a lot of money providing repair, or better yet — to use repair pricing and availability to dictate new sales.

In defense of repair monopolies on the basis of consumer safety George Kerchner of PRBA attempted to conflate repair with causing battery fires in consumer electronics. Unfortunately for him and his cause he was most effective at making the case that batteries are very often poorly designed and poorly made. We suggested and that consumers would be better served if OEMS made their authentica batteries available for purchase as a safety measure.

Dr. Earl Crane of the Security Innovation Center was pitted against Dr. Gary McGraw of Securepairs.org to debtate the connection between cyber security risk to consumers and repair. Its wasn’t a fight at all. They both agreed that cyber security is a huge problem of design, but that products can be designed to be both secure and repairable effectively taking cyber—security risk off the list of reasons to monopolize repair.

Home Appliance manufacturers again attempted to paint independent repair businesses as home burglars dressed up as repair techs. That didn’t work, since consumers have the complete right to pick the people they trust to enter their homes and perform necessary services. The next amusing excuse was based on the presence of environmentally unfriendly gasses in refrigerators that consumers wouldn’t be equipped to handle correctly.

Amusingly, the lobbyist did not know that the EPA already carefully controls which techs can purchase refrigerant gases for this exact reason. Independent repair techs or consumers would have to acquire the same certifications to engage in this kind of repair.

State Senators Chris Pearson of VT and Dave Osmek of MN were outstanding adovates for legislation to restore the option of repair to consumers. They were both clear that legislation is going to happen, and that those OEMS that want to be exempted or refuse to engage in discussion are going to find themselves on the wrong side of even more challenging statutes and regulations through delay.

We’ll be posting a timeline for each speaker and their points shortly. Its a four hour video for those that can take the time. All filings, agenda, CVs and video details are at the FTC Website https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/events-calendar/nixing-fix-workshop-repair-restrictions

Monopolies Ruin a Free Market

When you don’t like a product, or how a company behaves, sometimes you can vote with your dollars. Do businesses with their competitors -- make companies compete for the best product on the most favorable terms.

We often hear this as a reason that Right to Repair reforms are not necessary. If you don’t want to buy an unfixable device, vote with your dollars, and get something else.

But is “Just buy a different product” always a rational argument for solving problems with how companies conduct their business?

If only it were that simple. Sometimes, all the choices are bad.  

Thousands of manufacturers are doing the same thing at the same time -- blocking access to any and all independent repair. It is unlikely that federal regulators will pursue each of these companies one by one to crack the whip on their questionable practices.

For example, the FTC warned six companies last April that placing “Void Warranty if Removed” stickers on products was a blatant violation of federal warranty law. A few months later, U.S. PIRG surveyed 50 other companies to check for similar violations … and found 45 of those companies also voided warranties for independent repair even after the FTC warning.

When all, or nearly all, the companies behave the same way, there is no practical way for us to buy more wisely. Our options have evaporated.

Repair monopolies are now pervasive. Many industries lack any repair-friendly options. Even if you want to shop for products with repair in mind, consumers cannot find enough information on those policies pre-purchase to make an informed decision.  We’ve been charting terms and conditions in common EULA for common products like cell phones, tractors, TVS and computers-- and finding that roughly half the time --we can’t even find a document to review.

Despite the appearance of competition on the front end, the back end is monopolized -- and it’s no longer a free market.  We’ve lost control of the useful life of our purchases and our relationships with our property is altered. Monopolies are being favored over competition at every turn.  

  • We buy things we don’t own, but pay in full ...

  • We sign away our rights to use those things in agreements we cannot see beforehand ...

  • We cannot fix our things outside of the narrow rules set by the manufacturer ...

  • We cannot resell our things in an open market …

  • … Then we’re told we should just pick a different product in the first place.

Right to Repair is all about unlocking monopolies and re-asserting the power of the free market. It’s not something that consumers can do on their own. The standard for unlocking monopolies should be higher than just a flippant “Buy Something Else’. Right to Repair is essential legislation to restore the free market.


The Year in Repair

It’s been a big a big year for Right to Repair and our quest to give people what they need to fix the electronics in our lives. From all sides -- the strength and breadth of our coalition, the legislative advocacy and the public awareness and frustration -- our work is gaining strength. Here are some of the big highlights:

Right to Repair Legislation in US States Went Viral

Apple jump-started our New Year with “BatteryGate,” when they were caught throttling phone processors in devices with run-down batteries (but not informing customers or allowing others to fix those batteries). Frustrated consumers pressed on their legislators to fight back -- and within a few weeks supporting bills in 18 states.   (link https://ifixit.org/blog/11208/batterygate-timeline/.  

We made progress in pushing past opposition in several states, passing bills out of committee in Washington, Illinois and Wyoming.  Studies were held in New Hampshire and Vermont with both state bodies opting to continue in 2019. The Massachusetts Senate also voted to establish a Study Commission.  Apple can take credit for stalling bills just long enough in New York to delay passage, and in California for spiking their hearing. John Deere is bragging openly about successfully stalling bills in agricultural states such as Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  

Thanks to the strength of our networks, and the powerful stories from affected businesses and individuals, our sponsors weren’t scared off by lobbyists – and those that were re-elected will be back with more passion and support. 2019 is going to be amazing.

U.S. Copyright Office Widely Expands Legal Tinkering for Repair

The USCO handed us a huge victory in October of 2018 by widely exempting repair from limitation under copyright law.  You can now confidently tinker with the embedded software in your cell phone, computer, home appliance, internet of things gadget, or any land-based motor vehicle (apologies to boat and aircraft owners – we didn’t ask) Even better – you can hire anyone you want to help.  The sole remaining limitation is on hacking into game consoles – an expected outcome.

This October win helped give us another boost in momentum as we gear up for a big 2019.

Link https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/10/26/right-repair-advocates-claim-major-victory-new-smartphone-copyright-exemption/?utm_term=.55d79d96424f

National Consumer Rights Organizations Throw their Support to Right to Repair

Both U.S. PIRG (and the broader Public Interest Network) and Consumers Reports Advocacy began helping move Right to Repair legislation with official support, staff assignments and media outlets.   These alliances have allowed us to directly work on legislation in more states with expert organizational help. It has been transformational and much more coordination is underway.

More major media coverage is likely as a result of these alliances.  We’ve already seen more coverage on Radio and TV than ever before building awareness of Right to Repair globally.

Right to Repair went Multi-National

EU adds new regulations requiring spare parts availability.

Coolproducts.eu https://www.coolproducts.eu/ won a critical first step for parts availability in the EU in December of 2018.   Major manufacturers in the appliance sector in Germany and Italy fought hard against repair-friendly rules but weren’t able to block everything.  Each EU member nation can add to their own rules and we hope that some will expand on repair requirements for their own citizens.

Link: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9k487p/protesters-are-slowly-winning-electronics-right-to-repair-battles-in-europe

Australia went to court against Apple for blocking repair and won.

Apple was fined by an Australian Court for being anti-competitive stemming from the BatteryGate scandal.  While the amount of the fine is trivial to Apple, we are convinced that Apple and others following them are consistently anti-competitive and should be legally constrained from blocking repair.

Link: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/apple-fined-as-australian-customers-win-right-to-repair-court-fight-2018-06-19

Italy fines both Apple and Samsung for slowing phones

More fallout from battery-gate, and probably not the last action.

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/vianneyvaute/2018/12/27/final-score-2018-what-went-right-and-wrong-in-fair-tech/#1398a984da51



Canada sets up their own Right to Repair effort

Following the documentary on Apple produced by CBC out of Toronto (Link: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1339717187772 ) MPs in Canada have begun their own Right to Repair legislation within the Canadian system.   Farmers in western provinces are particularly upset that while our US Copyright Office removed legal threats from repair on our side of the border, those threats remain in Canada.   

Link: http://cwf.ca/news/commentaries/op-ed-usmca-ip-provisions-make-for-uneven-playing-field-for-canadian-u-s-farmers/

Exploding E-Waste Adds Municipalities to the Campaign.

Cities and towns are experience a whole new set of challenges related to e-waste – because imbedded batteries themselves are explosive and dangerous to handle.   

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/11/explosive-problem-with-recycling-ipads-iphones-other-gadgets-they-literally-catch-fire/?utm_term=.35eeecfa044d

Right to Repair helps lower these risks.  More repair means less waste in the first place.  Better yet – under Right to Repair statutes, manufacturers will have to provide the documentation everyone needs to find valuable, broken, and dangerous parts. It is possible that Right to Repair bills filed in 2019 could include additional requirements related to batteries.

Looking Ahead to 2019:

More bills, more hearings, more media attention and more allies will create the climate for a perfect storm to carry at least one bill through in 2019.  Once one state goes first – the rest will want to do the same. OEMs will have little choice but to voluntarily comply nationally or become subject to a crazy quilt of different statutes.   







Right to Repair is Simple

I was in Montpellier, VT this week for R2R Task Force meeting, and one refrain that I kept hearing from the big corporate lobbyists was that the Right to Repair bill is “too broad.” They know legislators like to make everyone happy through negotiation, and tend towards incremental rather than broad steps. They hope to be exempted by over-complicating the obvious—it's all the same stuff on the inside.

 

As repair techs, we know that fixing a broken wire or replacing a fried processor is the same no matter shape of the box it came in. We often don’t need to know anything about the software to make repairs. We fix the broken bits and hand the equipment back to the owner in working condition.

 

Where the opposition sees differences between the same parts inside of different products, we see commonality. Shape, size and even age aren’t important. If we have documentation, tools, parts, and permission, we can fix anything.

 

Our modern problem is lack of permission. We’re now in a situation where manufacturers have asserted for themselves the rights that owners’ have traditionally had. They insist on being the one to grant permission to repair. That’s the crux of the problem. That’s why we need to restore our right to repair.

 

We need legislation making sure that equipment owners retain their rights, even when manufacturers try to stop them. Simple.

 

Australia takes a bite out of Apple

The Australian equivalent of consumer protection fined Apple $ 9 million (AU) for having bricked phones illegally under the scandal known as Error 53. 

While $7 million (US) won't even register as a blip on the Apple balance sheet -- the story is far more valuable.  Today's front page of the WSJ headlined the story as "Apple Fined as Customers win a Right to Repair battle".    Coverage has been world-wide. 

Apple has continued to modify products they sold, and no longer own, using various firmware updates that have proven to be damaging to consumers.  "Battery-Gate" is just a more recent example of the dangers of letting an OEM modify equipment surreptitiously.   

Apple has also failed to mention, or document, many other product defects that require repairs they do not want to offer -- such as fixing touch disease (a manufacturing defect).  While no products are technically perfect,  our view is that if Apple doesn't want to make repairs -- they shouldn't be actively preventing consumers from seeking repairs elsewhere.  

Australia's action today is only the beginning of legislative action that will restore our collective right to repair.  

 

 

After Apple Slows Phones, Interest in Repair Spikes

A new survey released by U.S. PIRG shows that interest in additional phone repair options surged as battery issues with iPhones made headlines.

Findings show that we throw out 350,000 phones each day, highlighting need for expanded access to repair.

Boston, MA -- A new survey released today by U.S. PIRG, “Recharge Repair,” found a surge in consumer demand for phone repair following the revelation Apple was slowing phones with older batteries. “Recharge Repair” identifies the barriers to battery replacement and phone repair that add to long repair delays for consumers. The findings support the need for Right to Repair reforms to grant consumers and third parties access to the parts and tools to repair cell phones and other electronics.

Among the findings were:

·         We surveyed 164 independent repair businesses who reported a 37% increase in weekly battery replacement service requests since Dec. 20.

·         Self-repair interest surged as well – traffic to iPhone battery repair instructions went up 153%. 180,000 people viewed instructions in between Dec. 20 and Jan. 22

·         eWaste is a growing concern. America throws out an estimated 350,000 cell phones per day, or 141 million phones tossed each year.

“We should be free to fix our stuff,” said Nathan Proctor. “We should eliminate needless waste – repairing things that still have life -- but companies use their power to make things harder to repair. This survey shows that people are clearly looking for more options to repair their phones.”

18 states, from Wyoming to Massachusetts, have introduced “Right to Repair” or

“Fair Repair” laws which guarantee access to the parts and tools needed for repair.

In December, it was discovered that Apple was intentionally slowing down phones with older batteries. They defended this tactic by saying it was intended to reduce performance issues, but had many people wondering if Apple was covertly pushing people to upgrade to a new phone. Regardless of intent, these issues are resolved by replacing the battery – a battery which Apple doesn’t make available to customer or third-party repair businesses.

“These companies go to extraordinary lengths to keep people from repairing their devices. They glue parts to the casing so they can’t be removed, they refuse to sell replacement parts, they digitally lock devices to prevent third party repair,” said Repair.org Executive Director Gay Gordon-Byrne. “Apple is telling some people they can’t fix their batteries until April. Certainly, there are people with easily fixable phones who will get new ones instead of waiting. Why won’t they just sell their original batteries to other repair businesses? This problem would be over in a few days.”

“Batteries fail before the technology in smartphones and tablets which is why we are fighting for a law to require repairability of batteries — making advanced technology available to more consumers,” said Washington State Rep. Jeff Morris, who sponsored the bill which was advanced out of the state’s House Technology and Economic Development Committee last week.

Missouri bill sponsor, Rep. Tracy McCreery, added. “I’ve put forward a bill in Missouri to make it a lot easier to repair our products, including the replacement of iPhone batteries. Batteries will always wear out; Consumers should be able to replace their own batteries.”

Our survey includes a number of quotes from small businesses owners about the challenges they see repairing products. Ronny Hamida of Rontronix, Nebraska, noted: "If a product is being made by a company, the repair tools for it need to be made available as well. Repairing devices using tools created by and supplied from the device's manufacturer is just another way to ensure product reliability with considerably less environmental waste for a better tomorrow."

U.S. PIRG supports Right to Repair reforms because they reduce waste by limiting companies abilities to push customers to toss products that still have life.

“Fixing something instead of throwing it away to buy something new is better for the environment. Repair should be the easier, more affordable choice and it can be. People are resourceful, they can find ways to fix things, to keep them from going to waste, sitting in a landfill somewhere,” said Proctor. “But the first thing we need to repair are our laws.”

 

The full findings, including state by state breakdowns of phone waste and web traffic, and available here

 

Nathan Proctor is the Director of U.S. PIRG's Right to Repair campaign.