The New Hampshire State House rejected the Digital Fair Repair Act earlier this week in part thanks to a representative who seems to think that cell phones are literally garbage that no one should bother repairing.
The bill would have forced manufacturers such as Apple to share repair manuals and parts with independent repair stores. House members didn’t kill the bill, but sent it back to committee for a year of interim study, citing security concerns and, in the words of Rep. John Potucek (R-Derry) the ubiquity, cheapness, and—in his opinion—disposability of new smart phones.
“In the near future, cellphones are throwaways,” Potucek said, according to New Hampshire Business Review. “Everyone will just get a new one.”
That is, of course, the problem that right to repair is trying to solve.
The new iPhone 11 costs between $699 and $1,349. And it can be hard to find one at the moment. Google’s Pixel 4 costs between $799 and $999. Manufacturers seal smartphones to make it difficult to replace the battery and do basic repairs. Often, getting repairs through the company is so expensive that people simply purchase a new phone. Apple’s repair monopoly is so dominant that it’s the center of an investigation by the United States House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.
Right to repair advocates aren’t buying Potucek’s reasoning.
"If you told someone 15 years ago that by 2019 cellphones would cost $1,000 and be 'throwaway' device—and you wouldn't even bother to replace batteries—that very idea would seem completely absurd,” Nathan Proctor, the Director of the Campaign for the Right to Repair at US PIRG, told Motherboard in an email. “We might be more used to that idea in 2019, but it’s no less absurd. We are in danger of losing the basic ability to fix our stuff outside of manufacturer control, and we need legislators to stand up for their constituents right to repair."
“At our three locations throughout [New Hampshire], we serve tens of thousands of our neighbors and visitors each year,” Chad Johansen, president of NH iPhone Repair, said in an email. “Many of our customers are happy with their devices and would rather spend $100 to fix their current device instead of $1000 for a new one with little to no updates or added features. Now the [manufacturers] such as Apple and Samsung are making it harder for residents of NH to repair the devices they own.”
Twenty states had right-to-repair legislation on the ballot this year. The bills haven’t passed in any states, but the legislative season isn’t over yet. In Massachusetts, the State House held a three-hour long hearing on its Digital Right to Repair Act. Right-to-repair advocates are hopeful the act will pass in Massachusetts, where the legislation is patterned after a similar measure that passed in 2012 which gave independent auto shops the right to repair.
The right-to-repair movement is at a critical stage. The Federal Trade Commission is studying the issue, and Democratic presidential candidates Elzbath Warren and Bernie Sanders have called for national right-to-repair laws.
Rep. John Potucek did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.