Senate Passes the Digital Fair Repair Act in New York

by Mahnoor Mansur

The momentum of the Right to Repair Movement has taken a new turn as the New York Senate passes the Digital Fair Repair Act. This latest development is a result of the efforts made by the big shots of the repair industry. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, and Louis Rossman, owner of Rossmann Repair Group have been the two prominent advocates of the ‘right to repair’.

In addition to this, they had the support of thousands of consumer and repair shop owners. Many people joined the movement once they understood why the right to repair is necessary for everyone’s future.

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Let’s look at what led to the acceptance of the right to repair movement and how it is changing the market dynamics.

How Tech Giants Plan Obsolescence?

When a company manufactures a device, they can make it obsolete after some time. Service vendors and manufacturers force updates that make older models slow down or unusable. At some point, the devices will stop functioning correctly. 

Manufacturers also force users to move to a new software and hardware without giving a good reason. And over time customers get fading support for these devices. Eventually, they don’t get any help at all for their now old device.

Device manufacturers plan obsolescence for two reasons:

  • Diminishing support for legacy systems
  • Encouraging users to replace devices

Hence, three things led to the launch of right to repair movement:

  1. Unwanted waste that people couldn’t recycle which is caused due to rapid change of devices.
  2. Making it hard for consumers to continue using products.
  3. Making it difficult for third part repair shops to fix the devices.

What the New Bill Passed by the New York Senate Means?

The New York Senate has voted to pass the electronics right to repair legislation. Hence, it has become the first legislative body in the country to take this giant leap to ensure some sense of security to users in the future.

51 Senators voted in favor, whereas 12 voted against it. The digital fair repair act still has to be passed by the Assembly before the legislative session ends on Thursday. The digital fair repair act will be the first of its kind in the USA when it gets enacted.

The primary strength of the bill is its simplicity. The bill includes the following:

It requires OEMs to make tools used for maintenance, diagnosis, and repair available to any repair shop. So, any third party digital electronic equipment manufacturer can use the tools on reasonable and fair terms. Moreover, the tools and parts, including any updates to information or embedded software, should be available to repair shops. 

Almost half the states in the US are considering the right to repair laws in 2021. People want the right to fix their devices. 

Companies like Apple are maintaining a repair monopoly by restricting tools and parts of their devices and the necessary information required to do a repair. They spend millions of dollars lobbying state legislatures to stand against the right to repair. But the newly passed bill shows that thousands of people are raising their voices against it and their efforts are going to waste.

The legislation will affect the entire repair industry, including cell phones, computer, auto, medical, farming industry.

Let’s dig deeper into this.

1. Consumers and the Right to Repair

The devices consumers purchase belong to them. It comes under public interest to choose where they get it repaired from. If companies fail to provide consumers the autonomy they will be held accountable under the digital fair repair act.

When someone damages their device, it should be their right to attempt to get it fixed through repair shops. If you replace a device every time it stops working altogether, will people genuinely want it?

Advocates of the right to repair movement say NO! This concept is more like renting the device from the manufacturer, who will eventually stop giving upkeep of the device.

Once changed into law, the bill will protect the consumers from planned obsolescence and encourages that smartphones should be built to last.

2. Independent Repair Shops and Right to Repair

Debatably, independent repair shops are the ones that will make the most of the successful right-to-repair campaign. Because of which they have been the most vocal supporters of the new legislation too.

Repair shops believe that they should get the tools and parts to help the customers get more out of their devices. It is because they can provide cost-effective services to consumers. 

For instance, the iPhone X was worth $1000 when it came out. And if you broke the back glass, you would have to get it replaced for $500 from an Apple authorized repair shop. That is half the price of the new device. At the same time, third-party repair shops could do it for as low as $150.

For more on this, listen to this amazing State of Repairs episode with Kyle Wiens on the Right to Repair.

Since the pressure has built around the Right to Repair movement, some mega-corporations like Apple and Samsung have started giving certifications to repair shops to repair their devices. However, in return, they require the repair shop to share their customer data. If the repair shop makes the slightest mistake, they take away the shop’s right to repair the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) devices.

So, the digital fair repair act is a step forward to stop such practices by allowing repair shops to repair all devices and provide data security to consumers.

3. Equipment Manufacturers and Right to Repair

The growing success of the right to repair is a worry for many manufacturers. They have the belief that their guides and parts are proprietary. So they don’t want to give them to the public and consider it as a trade secret.

One of the most prominent examples is Apple’s development of a proprietary screw that prevented people from opening their devices without it. It’s all part of their propaganda that has made the purchase of the latest device cheaper than getting a repair.

The bill, however, is a step forward to stop manufacturer’s ill practices. It will allow repair shops to access tools and schematics that will make repairs easier for them.

The right to repair is an intense battle between the manufacturer and the customer. It seems that the consumers are more towards the winning side. It means the right to unlock, open, and repair devices that they buy and less monopoly for the manufacturers.

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