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Right to Repair supporters push Federal Trade Commission to stand up to manufacturers who restrict repair
WASHINGTON -- Showing the depth and breadth of the Right to Repair movement, three leading advocacy groups -- U.S. PIRG, iFixit and Repair.org -- delivered 15,059 signatures to Federal Trade Commissioners Rebecca Slaughter, Rohit Chopra, Christine Wilson and Noah Phillips on Wednesday. The petition calls for the FTC to take action to protect consumers' right to repair.
Many manufacturers place unfair restrictions on the repair of their products -- from smartphones to laptops to tractors. That hurts consumers and leads to extra toxic waste. In 2019, the FTC held a workshop called “Nixing the Fix,” launching an investigation into repair restrictions. Thanks to a requirement from Congress, the FTC must report back on its findings.
“The FTC must take action to ensure that Americans have the option to fix products they own -- or have independent repair people or shops fix them,” commented U.S. PIRG RIght to Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor. “These issues have come to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people needed repairs urgently, but most of the big box stores and ‘authorized’ repair options were shut down or had limited availibility. Smaller, independent shops were able to adjust quicker, but they face all manner of restrictions to fixing devices. That needs to end.”
Not only has authorized repair been unavailable for many during the pandemic, a dearth of repair options has hurt family budgets. When consumers are able to hold on to their devices for longer, they see big savings. A U.S. PIRG report released in January found that American families could save $40 billion every year if they could use their electronics for 50 percent longer -- even including the cost of additional repairs. That's more than $300 per family.
“Repair is essential -- and repair is under existential threat from overeaching manufacturers,” said Repair.org Executive Director Gay Gordon-Byrne. “If regulators and lawmakers don’t stand up, our devices will lock out repair, manufacturers will continue to charge an arm and a leg, and consumers will be forced to pay up.”
The thousands and thousands of petition signers are calling for the FTC to take several strong actions to protect repair, including: enforcing rules that prevent companies from forcing consumers to use their connected repair services, upholding federal laws (that companies frequently ignore) against voiding warranties in the case of independent repair, and enforcing laws against refusing to sell parts and tools to independent technicians.
“Big tech companies have been trying to control the repair market and suppress competition for far too long, boxing out small repair businesses and harming consumers,” said iFixit‘s U.S. Policy Lead Kerry Sheehan. “It’s time for the FTC to use their powers for good and take action against unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive practices impacting repair, but the question is: ‘Will they?’”
Advocates says in addition to using existing rules to protect consumers, the FTC should devise new rules against companies that hide restrictive terms and repair prohibitions in dense, unintelligible end-user license agreements (EULA), arrange exclusive supplier/provider arrangements that shut out independent repair providers, or sell products that cannot be repaired without being destroyed, with no notice provided to the customer.
“Just let people fix their stuff,” said Proctor.
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