A Cell Phone Carrier Breaks With Big Telecom, Announces Support for Right to Repair Legislation

Cell phone providers have actively lobbied against right to repair legislation, but Ting Mobile announced that it supports consumers' right to fix the things they own.

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Apr 1 2019, 11:00am

Image: Ting

Big tech has spent years fighting legislation that would make it easier for consumers to repair their own electronic devices. Though they generally don’t manufacture any electronics, mobile carriers have joined the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and John Deere and have lobbied against right to repair legislation through the CTIA, a trade organization that represents Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and other big telecom companies.

But one cell phone provider has broken ranks with the rest of the industry. Ting Mobile not only doesn’t oppose right to repair legislation—it has decided to actively support it.

Right to repair legislation proposed in 20 states would make it easier to fix the things you own—whether that’s a tractor, cell phone, computer, or home appliance—by requiring manufacturers to sell replacement parts and repair tools to customers. It would also require them to make diagnostic software and repair guides available to the public.

“I personally find it offensive that someone would say to me, ‘Well, I'm gonna make it so that you can't fix that thing,’” Andrew Moore-Crispin, Ting’s Director of Content, told me on a phone call. “I don’t think someone should be able to tell me I’m not allowed to. I paid for this phone, I should have the right to repair it.”

Ting has been a first mover in many of the arenas it operates in—it’s a spinoff company from Tucows, a Toronto-based domain registrar. The company has also dabbled in becoming an internet service provider by starting fiber-internet services in a few cities and towns around the United States. It also supports net neutrality.

The announcement comes as part of survey Ting did, in which it asked consumers about the right to repair. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they had no idea what the right to repair is.

“We’re used to having a phone for a couple of years, it’s not so good anymore, chuck it out and get a new one,” Moore-Crispin said. “That’s a lot of why people don’t think about right to repair, they haven’t had to think about right to repair. They’re seen as disposable, which is bad. This two year cycle is something we’ve been artificially conditioned to by the contract upgrade cycle.”

Once they grasped the concept, 69 percent of survey respondents said they’d prefer to either repair their own device or take it to a repair store instead of buying a new phone. More than 60 percent of respondents said they’d purchase DIY repair kits if the manufactured them and 58 percent of them said they’d prefer to purchase from a manufacturer that offered repair kits.

Ting said that supporting the right to repair is just good business: “The business case for us is the more you are able to choose, the better off we think everybody is,” Moore-Crispin said. “To care about right to repair, you have to first realize that repair is possible...we’re just trying to start conversations. The question is, you have this cell phone, who owns that phone? Who gets to decide what you choose to do with it? If I break the screen...I should have the right to repair it.”

Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren publicly called for right to repair legislation for farm equipment. In 2018, electronics manufacturer Motorola partnered with iFixit to sell DIY repair kits to consumers.

"We've been told by phone manufacturers that Right to Repair reforms would be a huge cyber security risk, or would endanger their intellectual property,” Nathan Proctor, the leader of US PIRG’s consumer rights group, said in an email. “So when Ting and others say that there is no cyber risk and support right to repair, it really undercuts those outrageous claims. Why is this a hard thing for manufacturers to figure out? We just want to fix stuff so we can keep using it."

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