FTC Formally Embraces Right To Repair As Movement Goes Mainstream
from the you-should-own-the-things-you-buy dept
One of the bigger bright spots in the last few years of often thorny or downright ridiculous policy debates has been the continued ascension of the right to repair movement. Whether it’s Apple’s wasteful restrictions or bullying of independent repair shops, Sony and Microsoft’s efforts to monopolize game console repair, or John Deere’s efforts to drive up repair costs for tractor owners, “right to repair” as a movement was born out of a genuine and bipartisan public annoyance at repair monopolies, obnoxious DRM, and self-service restrictions related to tools, documentation, and parts.
And despite Apple and friends’ best attempt to smear the movement as some dangerous and diabolical cabal only of use to sexual predators, its popularity shows no signs of slowing down. There’s legislation pending on both the federal level and in two-dozen states. Prompted by an FTC report showing industry opposition to the movement is largely fluff and nonsense, the Biden administration recently issued an executive order urging the FTC to do more. And now the FTC, with a bipartisan vote of 5-0, has adopted a new policy paper (pdf) and says it will take tougher action against illegal repair restrictions:
“The Federal Trade Commission today unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. The policy statement adopted today is aimed at manufacturers? practices that make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them. By enforcing against restrictions that violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, the Commission is taking important steps to restore the right to repair.”
The problem, of course, is the same problem facing the FTC on numerous fronts, from privacy to safety in bleach labeling. Namely that the agency’s authority is generally restricted under the FTC act to tackling corporate practices that are clearly “unfair and deceptive.” The agency also continually suffers from budget and staffing shortcomings (by well-lobbied Congressional design), so tackling the full scope of a problem like this often isn’t logistically or financially possible.
Still, the FTC argued that there’s a lot more it can do to lend markets and consumers a hand on the right to repair front, whether that’s doing a better job enforcing existing warranty laws, engaging in better coordination with state and local policymakers, or doing a better job holding companies that attempt to monopolize repair accountable under antitrust law:
“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs and undermine resiliency,? FTC Chairperson Lina Khan said during the meeting. ?The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions. And today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”
Ideally you’d still want a comprehensive right to repair law to shore up shortcomings in FTC authority. Much like privacy laws, that’s generally opposed by a broad coalition of cross-industry lobbyists who’d very much like to keep nickel and diming customers on a whole range of fronts, be it the phone industry or medical device manufacturing. But the more companies like Apple, John Deere, or the auto industry try to fight against reform using stupid, fear-mongering arguments, the more attention these shitty practices receive, the more annoyed the public gets, and the more bipartisan support develops.
That’s a major reason why right to repair went from a niche concern just a few years ago, to seeing consistent coverage via the likes of CBS News. That’s a positive development any way you slice it, and a nice contrast to many of the thornier and seemingly insurmountable tech policy debates that tend to consume DC, get mired in debate, and seemingly go nowhere.