Lawmakers in five states have introduced legislation that would enshrine the "Right to Repair" electronics, meaning manufacturers will have to sell replacement parts to independent repair shops and consumers and will also have to make their diagnostic and service manuals public.
The bills are squarely aimed at the "authorized repair" model that creates aftermarket monopolies dominated by the manufacturers themselves. For example, Apple has never authorized an independent company to repair iPhones, even though hundreds of companies do so every day (its authorized repair program is only for Mac computers).
Many of these independent repair shops exist in limbo: Acquiring parts usually means going on the Chinese grey market or salvaging parts from recycled devices. In the past, the Department of Homeland Security has raided independent repair shops who have unknowingly sold counterfeit parts (itself a confusing distinction, considering many of the internal parts of the iPhone have been commoditized).
"Every one of our members is in the repair business"
It's not just iPhones, of course. Dishwashers, refrigerators, servers, tractors, internet of things devices, cameras, and anything else with software in it have all had their own right-to-repair issues as companies seek to make parts difficult to buy and impose artificial software lockdowns on diagnostic systems within the devices.
Bills have been introduced in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Kansas. Additionally, a farm equipment repair bill has been introduced in Wyoming that closely mirrors the legislation in the other states but would at least nominally be targeted only at tractors and other farm equipment.
"Limited authorized channels result in inflated, high repair prices and high overturn of electronic items," the legislators who introduced the New York bill wrote. "Another concern is the large amount of electronic waste created by the inability to affordably repair broken electronics."
These bills wouldn't just affect independent repair companies; repair parts and diagnostic manuals would also be made available to consumers, making it much easier to repair your own things. The legislation is being pushed by Repair.org, a small lobbying group made up entirely of independent repair companies.
"Every one of our members is in the repair business," Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the group, told me. "It's very grassroots. Most repair businesses are very small, and it's not hard to prove that."
The legislation is modeled on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, a law passed in Massachusetts in 2012. That law effectively became national legislation, because auto manufacturers feared having to deal with the intricacies of 50 different state laws on the issue. The hope is that at least one electronics right to repair law will pass this year, similarly opening the floodgates for consumers and repair companies around the country.
The group is focusing most of its energy on New York, where it is being considered for the third year; last year, the bill had momentum and was looking like it was headed for passage, but last-minute lobbying from groups that were backed by Apple and other major manufacturers killed the legislation. The hope is that this bill will get passed in early summer.