FTC deals blow to big tech with unanimous “Right to Repair” policy approval

Jul 22, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

FTC deals blow to big tech with unanimous “Right to Repair” policy approval

Jul 22, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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After President Biden’s recent executive order instructing the FTC to institute rules regarding Right to Repair, and attempting to end the practice of expensive proprietary repairs that have become rife in all industries around the world, the FTC has now posted a statement prioritising more aggressive enforcement of unlawful repair restrictions.

Essentially, they’re saying that companies can no longer hold your damaged equipment hostage for a $1,500 proprietary repair when the actual cause of the problem can be solved with a $12 part. It should also mean less electronic waste and faster repairs, as you won’t be limited to only using the manufacturer as your only source of repair.

If you’re not familiar with the basic principle of Right to Repair, here’s a quick one-minute summary from repair tech and vocal proponent of Right to Repair, Louis Rossmann.

YouTube video

When I was a kid, you could repair pretty much anything. If a device died, if you knew how to find the cause of the problem, you’d just head out to the local electronics shop and buy the part you needed (or they’d order it for you if they didn’t have it in stock). Then, just whip out the soldering iron, remove the old part, insert the replacement part, and you’re done. No problem.

Over the years, tech has massively increased in complexity as chips get smaller and smaller. One can understand why manufacturers would not want random people being able to just go out and buy a spare part and have a go at a DIY fix. It’s much easier to kill stuff if you don’t know what you’re doing now.

But many companies have used this to their advantage. Terms like “planned obsolescence” have been around for a number of years now by simply making parts unavailable and forcing you to upgrade to a whole new device. Others use part exclusivity (telling manufacturers to only supply the part to them and nobody else) as an excuse to force expensive repairs, to the point where the components simply don’t exist on the market even if you were capable of fixing it yourself – something the FTC has specifically called out in their statement.

Even one of the co-founders of Apple, arguably the biggest culprit in any discussion about expensive proprietary repairs, Steve Wozniak, has come out to speak in favour of Right to Repair.

YouTube video

To be clear, the new FCC statement doesn’t impose any new laws. It simply clarifies their interpretation of existing laws. iFixit, another very vocal proponent of Right to Repair summarised the statement and its purpose in a blog post saying:

Policy statements are one way government agencies clarify the issues they intend to prioritize, the lens through which they view those issues, and any actions that might follow. Unlike new rules, policy statements don’t create new law, they just clarify how the agency interprets existing laws and how it views its authority to take action against companies breaking those laws.

Policy statements can have a big impact. An FTC policy statement in 1995 reversed the commission’s policy on “prior approval” before certain companies—denied unlawful, competition-stifling mergers in the past—could seek a merger once more. The Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to rescind that 1995 policy statement, effectively bringing prior approval back into enforcement.

Exactly how the FTC will enforce things in the near future remains to be seen, but it could be the beginning of the end for expensive proprietary repairs that force you to go back to the manufacturer.

[via PetaPixel]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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11 responses to “FTC deals blow to big tech with unanimous “Right to Repair” policy approval”

  1. John Wojciechowski Avatar
    John Wojciechowski

    They’ll find a way around it. Even making equipment more expensive or prone to periodical breakdowns so you have to bring it in for repair and then rake you over the coals on the repair bill.

    1. David Sargent Avatar
      David Sargent

      John Wojciechowski The bigger point being, we’re now looking at policy changes that include protections for consumers if we want to repair our own devices, including making it illegal for companies to void warranties for doing something as simple as just opening housing on certain devices or whole categories of devices i.e. phones, consoles, etc.

      Of course, most companies will do all they can to protect their bank accounts even if it means burning their customers on repair costs, so we’ll have to wait and see how all this plays out.

    2. John Wojciechowski Avatar
      John Wojciechowski

      David Sargent, I agree, but as you said, we’ll see how this plays out. Just like deregulation, it’ll come back and bite the consumer in the butt.

    3. Ondra Šindler Avatar
      Ondra Šindler

      David Sargent If they make it illegal to prevent independent repairs from getting replacement parts, PCB schematics and tools they can’t really go too far. Market forces and all that.

    4. John Wojciechowski Avatar
      John Wojciechowski

      Ondra Šindler, don’t worry, they have lots of brilliant lawyers and engineers working on the problem. They can make hybrid boards with no individual replaceable parts. Sealed at the factory and can’t be opened without destroying it. And it will fit in with the right to repair law. Auto makers already do it. You can’t replace one part. It’s part of an assembly.

    5. Ondra Šindler Avatar
      Ondra Šindler

      John Wojciechowski Yeah. In long term people will need to wise up and start buying repairable. Or concept of owning anything is done for.

  2. Jim Huang Avatar
    Jim Huang

    expensive proprietary repair is just pointless.

  3. Randy Dalton Avatar
    Randy Dalton

    Wonder if this addresses access for repair. Trying to open a device can be incredibly difficult and lead to the need for more repairs.

  4. Ed Eagleton Avatar
    Ed Eagleton

    wow choked up after listening to steve.. he is spot on ,, I’ve seen companies trying to choke repairs since the late 70’s citing they were too evolved for ordinary people.. that shouldn’t matter I’m not asking the company to do anything other than to provide parts at a reasonable price allow me the choice.and stop software blocks..

  5. Renlish Avatar
    Renlish

    If companies want to do the proprietary repair thing, fine. If I am going to invest $2000 in a phone, which will typically last 2-5 years, I want a lifetime warrantee on parts and free repairs. Won’t ever happen, though. Until that time, I will get my devices repaired where I see fit.

  6. blokeinusa Avatar
    blokeinusa

    This is where Radio Shack comes back