New York congressman puts forward federal right-to-repair bill

Fair Repair Act targets all varieties of electronic devices


A New York congressman has introduced a federal right-to-repair bill, just a week after the state's Senate passed a bill addressing the same issue. That state bill has failed to progress, we note.

The proposed federal-level legislation, though, would compel original equipment manufacturers to provide consumers and independent businesses access to the tools, schematics, and parts required to fix broken devices.

Dubbed the Fair Repair Act, and proposed by House Rep Joe Morelle (D-NY), the bill would provide an equal basis for all consumers and independent repair shops. Although great strides have been made pushing similar legislation on the state level, with bills introduced or passed in 27 states this year alone, progress has not been evenly divided.

In a statement, Congressman Morelle said: "For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment.

"This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve."

If passed, the bill would empower the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the rules, either through financial penalties, or by reforming existing contracts. The same powers would also be provided to state attorneys.

Unlike other bills previously passed, this would expand to all varieties of electronic devices. By contrast, the Massachusetts right-to-repair bill passed by referendum in 2020 was limited to cars.

The bill has been welcomed by advocacy groups. Kerry Sheehan, US policy lead at iFixit, said: "Big tech companies shouldn't be able to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff. We applaud Representative Joe Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and for standing up for consumers, farmers, and independent repair shops nationwide."

Kit Walsh, senior staff attorney and assistant director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, added: "This important bill will help Americans keep our technology in good repair and will help small repair businesses compete on fair terms with device manufacturers. Ultimately that means higher-quality device repair for lower prices, less environmental waste, and a safer Internet of Things.

"The bill is also significant because it recognizes that device owners have rights, that you are allowed to understand and fix your devices even if the manufacturer would rather they were the only one."

It will likely face fierce competition from industry groups, which have steadfastly fought similar initiatives on the state level. Groups like TechNet (not to be confused with Microsoft's former IT support forums) and the Consumer Technology Association have repeatedly presented the right to repair as watering-down intellectual property rights and a risk to consumer safety and privacy. Plus, the proposed law must clear all the hurdles in the House and Senate.

According to OpenSecrets.org, TechNet spent $270,000 on lobbying efforts in 2019. The Consumer Technology Association spent $4.93m in 2018. ®

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