Repair shows itself as a microcosm of the problem with money in politics—popular policies held at bay by powerful corporations.
Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.
The Big News:
Corporate Interests Stymie Repair Bills
In the 2019–2020 U.S. election cycle, $12.9 billion in campaign contributions were made by individuals and businesses. As election day nears, we are reminded of the cozy relationship of moneyed interests and our politicians. The right to repair debate is no exception, with business interests making themselves known in the national, state, and local policy debates throughout the past year.
While polling and statewide ballot initiatives have shown that the electorate broadly supports a right to repair, bills are often sidelined and killed, chiefly because of lobbying and corporate interests infecting the political process. Amazon has killed dozens of privacy bills, despite strong public support. Legislation that would force Apple and Google to open up their app stores was killed quietly in Georgia backrooms, even though 79% of voters support similar national legislation. Right to repair faces the same challenge. Whether through campaign contributions directly to politicians or access to politicians that normal people don’t have, legislation that would make repair more accessible has been held up despite its popularity.
“Progressive” States Aren’t Immune
The most recent example of money weaseling its way into the repair debate is in New York, a state that recently received significant praise for its electronics right to repair bill. Earlier this year, the state passed a sector-specific bill that would be expected to give parts and information available to consumers and independent repair shops specifically for consumer electronics. However, corporate lobbyists have been running a full-court press since the bill’s passage to stymie any progress.
We saw similar legislation die earlier this year in legislative committees like in California, and while national bills in the House and Senate receive applause, they have yet to materialize. Similarly, hearings in Congress exploring the issue of repair have continued, showing an interest from federal lawmakers—but no tangible outcomes as of yet.
Even successful bills, like Colorado’s wheelchair repair bill, needed the extreme circumstances of market domination and economic exploitation of wheelchair users to warrant a legislative response. As much as we would be heartened to hear that the right to repair bill’s popularity would be enough to codify it into law, there are countless examples of the opposite being true.
Repair Is Not So Niche After All
While the right to repair is not an issue receiving the same coverage as healthcare or climate, it is inextricably linked to these issues (see: medical device repair and our waste problem respectively). Consumers also feel the direct impact of a lack of the right to repair, when, for example, they are forced to pay far more than necessary for repairs or when they run into other common barriers to repair.
While it’s important to understand these roadblocks to attaining a right to repair, the good news is that cracks are forming in the opposition. The number of bills and laws related to repair is growing, and momentum is on our side.
Repair manuals and support documentation for devices used in a health care setting or procedure.View Device
Governor Hochul: Tear Down That Wall to Repair! (Securepairs)
It has been more than four months since the New York legislature passed the Digital Fair Repair Act with a veto-proof majority in the Senate and a near-unanimous vote (145-2) in the New York Assembly. It’s time the governor signed it into law.
So who opposes the idea of people being able to fix their own stuff? Manufacturers, who very much prefer getting to decide what you can fix and what you can’t, decide how long a product can live and when it must die and be replaced.
Because manufacturers routinely refuse to sell spare parts or provide access to repair manuals, it’s difficult or impossible to fix personal electronics like cell phones. When a manufacturer refuses to share the tools and information you need to fix a cracked smartphone screen or malfunctioning home printer, they get to charge whatever they want to repair it, or refuse to repair it altogether, pushing you to replace it, instead.
They’re not taking their loss in the legislature sitting down. We know that front groups funded by the electronics, home appliance and telecommunications industries (among others) have used the period since the legislature passed the law in June to lobby Governor Hochul hard to veto the Digital Fair Repair Act, in part by arguing that it will compromise security and privacy protections in consumer electronics.
In a world populated by “smart,” Internet-connected, software-powered objects, the Digital Fair Repair Act is vital: updating longstanding consumer and private property rights for a digital age.
And it does so just as manufacturers seek to turn hundreds of millions of owners into unwitting tenants of their technology. It’s time for the Governor to make New York a leader in repair and consumer rights — and sign this landmark bill into law. (Securepairs.org)
iPhone X Lightning Connector Replacement
The Lightning, or dock, connector is the main…
Apple Caves to New EU Regulation on USB-C in iPhones (PC Mag)
Greg Joswiak, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, has confirmed the iPhone will be making the switch to a USB-C port because “we have no choice.”
The European Union will require all phones, tablets, and cameras to use USB-C for charging before the end of 2024. Based on Apple’s typical release cycle for new iPhone models, it means the iPhone 16 will need to ship with a USB Type-C port, although Apple could decide to make the switch next year on the iPhone 15.
Automakers Say They Can’t Comply with Massachusetts Right to Repair Law (Boston Globe)
The automotive right-to-repair law that won overwhelming approval from Massachusetts voters in a referendum nearly two years ago is still propped up on jacks in Boston federal court. And based on documents submitted to the court last week by two major automakers, it’ll be there for quite a while.
Cybersecurity executives for General Motors and Stellantis, the company that owns carmaker Chrysler, told the court that they’ve done nothing to prepare for complying with the law, because they can’t. Kevin Tierney, vice president of global cybersecurity for GM, said that “it remains my considered judgment that it is simply impossible to comply with the Data Access Law safely.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey contends that the carmakers are deliberately misreading the law to falsely argue that it contradicts federal auto safety regulations and to claim that obeying the law is technically impractical. “None of that is true,” said a filing from Healey’s office.
FTC Approves Final Orders in Right-to-Repair Cases Against Harley-Davidson, MWE Investments, and Weber (Federal Trade Commission)
After a public comment period, the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday approved final orders against motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, grill maker Weber-Stephen Products, and the manufacturer of Westinghouse outdoor power equipment, MWE Investments, for illegally restricting customers’ right to repair their purchased products.
In cases announced in June, the FTC alleged that Harley-Davidson and MWE Investments included terms in their warranties that claimed that the warranty would be void if customers used independent repairers or third-party parts, in violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the FTC Act. In addition, Harley-Davidson allegedly failed to properly disclose all warranty terms in a single document, and instead directed consumers to visit a local dealership to fully understand the warranty. In July, the FTC announced a similar case alleging that Weber’s warranty illegally claimed that the use of aftermarket parts would void the company’s warranty on gas and electric grills.
The orders require the companies to take multiple steps to correct their unlawful behavior including to cease telling consumers that their warranties will be void if they use third-party services or parts, or that they should only use branded parts or authorized service providers. If the companies violate these terms, the FTC will be able to seek civil penalties of up to $46,517 per violation in federal court.
How to Fix Cars* By Breaking “Felony Contempt of Business Model” (Cory Doctorow)
They’re called “anti-features”: artificial limitations built onto the products we buy. These are limitations no customer asked for — and indeed, they’re limitations customers would pay to remove — if only they could.
The first anti-features were “DRM” (Digital Rights Management), like the “region-locks” on DVD players that stopped you from using a player you bought in one country to play back a disc you bought somewhere else.
There’s an approach lawmakers could take, either as an alternative to bans or as a supplement to them: legalize modifying your own property to suit your own purposes. Right to Repair bills and other anti-anti-feature policies focus on banning companies from selling intentionally broken products or requiring them to provide unlock codes to authorized service depots. What these policies don’t do is protect “adversarial interoperability”—reverse engineering and other guerilla tactics used to create products that undo anti-features.