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Microsoft, TechNet Push Back

State, Congressional Legislators Look to Advance Right-to-Repair Bills

State and congressional lawmakers are trying to build momentum for passing right-to-repair legislation, after renewed focus from the FTC and the White House (see 2107210061) and 2107090010). Microsoft and TechNet told us industry-authorized repair services are the best, safest option, but advocates accused industry of profit-seeking self-interest.

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Constituents want the right to independent repair, Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Brady (D) told us Wednesday. His bill, S. 166, which passed out of subcommittee last year, is scheduled for a hearing in October before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, he said. The legislation would establish “fair and reasonable” terms for providing diagnostic, service or repair information and services for digital products.

The bill has 21 petitioners -- Brady, 16 other Democrats and four Republicans. He denied there’s proof of the tech industry’s claims about risks associated with allowing unauthorized third parties access to consumer devices. “Obviously we want to protect their information, their private information but also to save them costs,” he said. “The cost consumers are paying is outrageous to get things repaired.”

Microsoft is committed to designing products that “deliver what customers need and want in a premium device and that includes increasing its repairability and durability,” a spokesperson emailed Wednesday. “We believe consumers are entitled to receive repair services that are safe and effective. We provide consumers with repair services that ensure the high quality of repairs, safeguard consumer’s privacy and security, and protect consumers from injury.”

Unvetted” third-party repair access jeopardizes device safety, puts “consumers at risk for fraud, and could place sensitive information in the hands of malicious hackers, creating a new set of cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” TechNet said in a statement Wednesday. Authorized repairers, including from small businesses, have “established relationships with manufacturers.” This ensures appropriate training from manufacturers and proper qualifications to “keep consumers protected,” said TechNet, which represents Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Google, Facebook and other companies that advocates cited for lobbying against the right to repair.

There are no digital device right-to-repair laws at the state or federal level. Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-N.Y., introduced the Fair Repair Act (see 2106170032) in June, which would require tech manufacturers to give device owners and independent repair shops access to parts, tools and information needed for fixes.

Large corporations are hindering progress for small businesses and consumers, said Morelle in a statement Wednesday: “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.” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., co-sponsored HR-4006. An aide noted an FTC report saying “manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions, [but] the majority are not supported by the record,” including claims about safety risks associated with third parties.

Lobbying is a major reason why it has been difficult to get laws on the books, said U.S. PIRG Right to Repair campaign Director Kevin O'Reilly. His organization compiled a list of companies worth a combined $10.7 trillion that lobbied against the right to repair. It includes Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tesla, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Lilly, T-Mobile, Medtronic, Caterpillar, John Deere, General Electric, Philips and eBay. Microsoft was the only one of the tech and telecom companies to comment. O’Reilly noted momentum in New York, where the Senate passed right-to-repair legislation late this past session. “It just makes sense,” said O’Reilly. “People want to repair their stuff at the end of the day, and these steps we saw in Washington were good, but we’re going to keep pushing until this change gets across the finish line.”

It's primarily states that have tried enacting legislation, said founder Paul Roberts. He noted movement in New York and Massachusetts. The latter is the only state with any kind of right to repair law, but it applies to automakers. Massachusetts passed its measure in 2013, requiring automakers to provide diagnostic software and tools to owners and independent repair shops. There’s no federal equivalent, though automakers signed a memorandum of understanding to recognize the Massachusetts law nationally. “Once you sell an item to somebody, you are relinquishing control and ownership of it, and that person then owns it, and it’s more or less theirs to do as they wish,” said Roberts. “We’re really just trying to assert that right by codifying it in law.”