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 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