We live in a world where everyone uses technology and manufacturers don’t want anyone to repair their own stuff. Companies such as Apple maintain strict control of the tools and methods it uses to service broken devices. Farmers across America are hacking their tractors because manufacturer John Deere doesn’t want them to fix them themselves. The right-to-repair movement has been fighting against big tech’s repair monopoly for years and, in Massachusetts, it just took an important step towards busting that monopoly.
On July 25, the Massachusetts Senate approved a Resolution that would create a special commission that would research the feasibility of forcing device manufacturers to treat customers and independent repair shops the same as officially licensed repair outlets. According to the proposed study, that means providing customers and independent repair shops with “repair technical updates, diagnostic software, service access passwords, updates and corrections to firmware, and related documentation.”
The right-to-repair movement has a long and positive history in Massachusetts. In 2012, it passed a law that forced automotive manufacturers to provide diagnostic information on its cars. The car companies, having lost in one state, began sharing info with independent mechanics nationwide.
Gay Gordon Byrne, executive director of The Repair Organization, helped push the bill in 2012 and has been working to extend the law to tech companies ever since. “This is just one step in a series of steps that will end Repair Monopolies for technology products. I’m thrilled,” Byrne told me in an email about the pending study..
The Resolution to create the study group still needs to pass the Massachusetts House, but the session ends July 31 so right-to-repair watch dogs won’t have to wait long to see if it goes forward. The proposed makeup of the study commission shows that the legislature is serious about the issue and also reveals how big tech’s repair monopoly is about much more than just being able to open up your iPhone without voiding the warranty.
The legislature wants the study commission to include 23 members, including various members of the legislature but also a wealth of experts in various tech fields. They want someone from the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, a medical device manufacturer, an expert on electronic waste recycling, someone who repairs complex medical equipment, an intellectual property lawyer, a cyber security expert, a local farmer, and various other experts and citizens affected or knowledgeable about the right-to-repair.
If and when the Massachusetts passes the Resolution, the commission will have six months to file its report. Repair advocates such as Byrne are excited about the study. “It’s a huge leap forward in validating our position and far more in depth than a single hearing,” she told Motherboard.