Bipartisan FTC Study Confirms Everything 'Right to Repair' Advocates Have Been Saying For Years
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For years, “right to repair” advocates have been warning about the problems with efforts to monopolize repair. Whether it’s Apple’s efforts to bully small repair shops, Sony and Microsoft’s efforts to monopolize repair of game consoles, or John Deere’s implementation of DRM and repair restrictions so onerous customers have to drive a thousand miles and pay a small fortune to repair their own tractors, the impact is rather obvious. And the impact has only been more pronounced during Covid, as hospitals complain about the difficulty in obtaining the documentation and parts necessary to repair ventilators in a timely fashion.
There’s of course numerous other problems with making it harder to promptly and inexpensively repair products consumers and companies own, including the environmental impact and waste. Pushed by Congress two years ago to issue a report on the growing problem with repair monopolies, the FTC released a new bipartisan study this week that effectively confirms what “right to repair” reformers have been arguing for years, namely that such onerous and self-serving restrictions harm consumers, innovation, and the planet itself.
Like so many other monopolization issues (broadband comes quickly to mind), the FTC study found that these restrictions often unfairly impact marginalized communities where money is already tight:
“The burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities,? the FTC found. ?Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color.”
Annoyance at this problem has driven bipartisan calls for new right to repair legislation in more than dozen states, as well as a new federal right to repair law. Worried that this could impact revenues, companies have been doing their best to try and smear these reform efforts as some kind of dangerous, leftist cabal, an extreme risk to user privacy and security, a boon to dangerous hackers, or even a massive gift to sexual predators. None of of these things are remotely true, but so far they’ve been fairly effective at stalling legislative progress in numerous states among legislators who don’t understand the subject.
The FTC’s report dug through many of these claims, and found that the majority of them simply don’t hold water:
“Although manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions, the majority are not supported by the record,? the FTC said. The agency also noted that industry efforts at self-regulation had fallen well short of solving the problem.”
The report also digs through the litany of ways companies try to monopolize repair, whether it’s through obnoxious DRM, specific adhesives companies know can’t be removed, aggressive tactics on copyright, legal attacks on small third party repair shops, or onerous restrictions on gaining access to documentation and parts. In addition to recommending better stronger state and federal laws, the FTC makes it clear the government could do a lot better job enforcing existing warranty laws, as well as the whole “unfair and deception” aspect of the FTC Act.
While right to repair advocates welcomed the FTC report as confirmation of what they’ve been saying all along, they were quick to note that acknowledging the problem–and taking substantive steps to fix it–are very different things.