When your car fails, your instinct is probably to take it to a mechanic. However, when something is wrong with your smartphone (say a broken screen or a battery that drains quickly) you may wonder: “Is it time to buy a new one?”
That’s because, even though our consumer electronics have become as vital as our cars, the idea of tech repair has not yet been seeded into our collective consciousness. Studies have shown that when tech products start to fail, most people are inclined to buy new rather than fix old ones.
“Repair is inconvenient and difficult, so people don’t look for it,” said Nathan Proctor, a director of the United States Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, who is working on legislation that makes more accessible technological repair. “Because people do not expect to repair things, they replace things when the most logical thing they can do is repair them.”
It does not have to be this way. We could keep our tech products, as we do with cars, if it were more practical to do so. If we had more access to spare parts, instructions, and tools to breathe new life into products, repairs could become simpler and less expensive.
This premise is at the center of the Right to Repair Act, a proposed piece of legislation that activists and tech companies have fought for for nearly a decade. Recently, sympathizers of the right to repair achieved two great victories. In May, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report explaining how tech companies affected competition by restricting repairs. Additionally, on Friday, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order that included a directive for the FTC to impose limits on how technology makers can restrict repairs.
The FTC will meet next week to discuss new policies on electronics repairs. Here’s what you need to know about fighting for your right to repair your appliances.
What is the law of the right to repair?
The legislation, which was previously proposed in about two dozen states and is now being debated at the federal level, would require manufacturers of technology and gadgets to provide the tools, instructions and parts necessary for anyone to repair their smartphones, tablets. , computers and refrigerators, as well as other products.
That would be a big change. Today, technology companies provide service tools and parts to only a network of officially approved partners, including large brands with service centers such as Best Buy and some independent repair stores. These official partners routinely follow strict rules, which include using genuine parts purchased directly from the manufacturer, so consumer costs can be higher than repairs done by unauthorized centers.