Apple is planning to fight proposed electronics "Right to Repair" legislation being considered by the Nebraska state legislature, according to a source within the legislature who is familiar with the bill's path through the statehouse.
The legislation would require Apple and other electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops, and would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public.
Nebraska is one of eight states that are considering right to repair bills; last month, Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Wyoming introduced legislation. Last week, lawmakers in Illinois and Tennessee officially introduced similar bills.
According to the source, an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. AT&T will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. Motherboard is protecting the identity of the source because they are not authorized to speak to the press.
So far, Nebraska is the only state to schedule a hearing for its legislation. Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Update: A representative for AT&T said the company is "familiar with this legislation but [has] no plans to attend or testify." The spokesperson said that the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group that includes members such as AT&T and Verizon, is "working to find a viable solution."
Last year, industry lobbyists told lawmakers in Minnesota that broken glass could cut the fingers of consumers who try to repair their screens
Manufacturers have lobbied hard against right to repair legislation in the past. Last year, a bill headed through the New York statehouse was killed in part due to lobbying from Apple and IBM, among other manufacturers. But nationwide, the legislation appears to have much more momentum this year as more states introduce right to repair bills. Last month, the American Farm Bureau Federation, an influential political organization representing farmers, officially endorsed right to repair legislation.
The bills nationwide are being pushed by Repair.org, a trade organization made up of independent repair shops who say that their companies have been harmed by an attempt by manufacturers to gain a monopoly over the repair business. Even without readily available repair parts or service manuals, a healthy DIY repair hobby has thrived thanks to online crowdsourced instruction manuals on sites like iFixit and grey market parts that are available directly from factories in China or can be salvaged from recycled devices.
The idea that it's "unsafe" to repair your own devices is one that manufacturers have been promoting for years. Last year, industry lobbyists told lawmakers in Minnesota that broken glass could cut the fingers of consumers who try to repair their screens, according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. Byrne said she will also testify at the Nebraska hearing and "plans to bring band aids."
"They should want to give people as much information about how to deal with a hazardous thing as they can," Gordon-Byrne said. "If they're concerned about exploding batteries, put warning labels on them and tell consumers how to replace them safely."
We need to keep adding bills because manufacturers can keep playing whack-a-mole with lobbyists if there's only one or two states
It should be noted that iPhone 7 batteries do have a warning label that says there is a "potential for burning" if punctured. The label also says they should only be replaced by an "authorized service provider"—either Apple itself or a company that pays Apple a fee to become authorized.
Tractor manufacturer John Deere has also come out vehemently against right to repair legislation; a letter the company wrote opposing the Kansas right to repair bill says the company wants to prevent "unintended alterations" to the tractors it sells. The company also said that such bills should be shot down "to protect consumers' significant investment in equipment," which it says can only be retained by servicing the vehicles at authorized John Deere repair centers. The full letter is embedded below.
The goal of Repair.org is to get at least one bill passed this year, the hope being that manufacturers won't want to deal with a patchwork of laws in different states around the country. In 2012, a Massachusetts law guaranteeing the right to repair automobiles became de-facto national legislation after car manufacturers decided to comply with the law nationwide rather than continue to fight burgeoning legislation in other states.
"We need to keep adding bills because manufacturers can keep playing whack-a-mole with lobbyists if there's only one or two states," Gordon-Byrne said. "But if there's 10, 12, 16 bills—that level of pressure is going to be hard to ignore."