Congress Introduces New Agricultural 'Right to Repair' Bill With Massive Farmer Support
from the let-me-fix-my-shit dept
Back in 2015, frustration at John Deere’s draconian tractor DRM helped birth a grassroots tech movement dubbed “right to repair.” The company’s crackdown on “unauthorized repairs” turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM (and the company’s EULA) prohibited the lion’s share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for “authorized” repair (which for many owners involved hauling tractors hundreds of miles and shelling out thousands of additional dollars), or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.
Seven years later and this movement is only growing. This week Senator Jon Tester said he was introducing new legislation (full text here, pdf) that would require tractor and other agricultural hardware manufacturers to make manuals, spare parts, and and software access codes publicly available:
“We?ve got to figure out ways to empower farmers to make sure they can stay on the land. This is one of the ways to do it,? Tester said. ?I think that the more we can empower farmers to be able to control their own destiny, which is what this bill does, the safer food chains are going to be.”
The legislation comes as John Deere recently was hit with two new lawsuits accusing the company of violating antitrust laws by unlawfully monopolizing the tractor repair market. In 2018 John Deere had promised to make sweeping changes to address farmers’ complaints, though by 2021 those changes had yet to materialize. Tester’s legislation also comes as a new US PIRG survey shows that a bipartisan mass of famers overwhelmingly support reform on this front.
Tester’s proposal is just one of several new efforts to rein in attempts to monopolize repair, be it John Deere or Apple. More that a dozen state-level laws have been proposed, and the Biden administration’s recent executive order on competition also urges the FTC to craft tougher rules on repair monopolization efforts. In an era rife with partisan bickering, it’s refreshing to see an issue with such broad, bipartisan public support, resulting in an issue that only had niche support a half decade ago rocketing into the mainstream.