We Showed Legislators That Right to Repair Still Matters at NCSL 2018

Correction April 21, 2022: We updated the independent repair technician figures below to reflect the most recent industry data.

I believe in ownership: When you buy something, you own it—and you should be able to do whatever you damn well please with the things that you own. I’m willing to fight anyone who says otherwise. And that’s how I found myself at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislative Summit last week—fighting loudly for consumer’s repair rights.

Right to repair booth at NCSL Legislative Summit
Oh hey, that’s me! I helped several government officials and business representatives repair their devices at this year’s NCSL Legislative Summit.

NCSL is an annual gathering of state legislators, government officials, business representatives, and educators—which makes it a great place for repair activists like myself to rub elbows with the folks who write the rules. Among the attendees was the Repair Association, a five-year-old trade group representing the repair industry with a kick-ass list of accomplishments: cell phone unlocking, exemptions for repair and tinkering from the Librarian of Congress, and Fair Repair bills in 18 states. And while those accomplishments are wonderful steps in the right direction, achieving an actual legislative victory has remained elusive. Thanks to inauspicious legislative sessions, powerful lobbying efforts, and simple legislator apathy, our success has been stymied.

Opponents suggest that the fight over Right to Repair is unnecessary. They argue that consumers should never fix their devices themselves. As a self-made repair professional, this doesn’t sit well with me. And I wanted to show our elected representatives first-hand that repair is for everyone, not just the manufacturers.

Repair is what has empowered a mother in Mendon, NY to save memories. It’s part of what inspires people to immigrate to the United States and start a business. Not only has repair preserved memories—it’s created new ones. The men and women who choose to tinker are not criminals—they are mothers and fathers, immigrants and entrepreneurs. But while there are more than 27,000 independent technicians in a $4 billion-dollar industry—Apple is a trillion-dollar company that has systematically hunted third-party repair shops who fight on the front lines for our repair rights. They need our help.

Right to Repair legislation extends far beyond the repair of Apple devices, which account for less than 50 percent of the smartphone market. That means the majority of manufactured devices on the market today aren’t serviceable through easily accessible “authorized” facilities. Just think about that for a hot sec—when was the last time you saw a Samsung Service Center? An LG Service Center? How about HP? If the nearest official repair outlet is located in a factory across the country—or on the other side of the globe—what’s a consumer with a broken device to do?

In an effort to chip away at the arguments of opposition, we brought our simple message directly to the legislators at this annual gathering. In other words, we forced our own Big Block of Cheese Day. You feta believe it.

Together, representatives and advocates of the repair industry asked our legislators to keep these jobs local. While many jobs today have fallen victim to offshoring, repair is a preeminent future-proof business. Everything breaks—and we’ll always need people to fix our broken stuff. It’s not feasible to send a repairable piece of equipment overseas. If you sent your dryer back to South Korea for a repair every time the sensor broke, it would be months until you got it back—and you’d be dryer-less that whole time.

That’s why we need local people to fix our local stuff—because otherwise, we would all be line-drying our clothes every time our dryers broke. Or, more likely, we’d all be miserably wearing wet socks.

Repair association booth at NCSL legislative summit
This senator was excited to learn how to fix her phone.

Local repair techs have caught a bad rap over the years, but I can assure you they can be trusted. I’ve been a repair tech at three multi-million dollar organizations, so I’ve seen exactly how it works on the other side. Most techs are required to go through extensive training before they’re even allowed to handle a customer’s device. They’re provided with the highest-quality tools to complete repairs. And, oftentimes, they receive higher market wages and the opportunity to work more hours than they would at any “authorized” facility. But big tech likes to give them a bad name, so they blame battery fires and software bugs on third-party repairs. But that’s just fear mongeringthese jobs are skilled, well-paid, and continually in demand.

That also means that they’re scared. You wouldn’t start a rumor about a group of people unless you actually felt threatened, right? We’ve finally got big tech’s ear, so it’s up to us to let them know that we’re not backing down from our fight for the right to tinker with our stuff.

Repair doesn’t just create jobs—it provides an opportunity to get expensive technology into the hands of people who need it. The EPA estimates that the US disposed of over 2 million tons of e-waste in 2009. Yet 24 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet in part because they don’t have access to internet-ready devices. The only thing standing between many of those out-of-use computers and a needy low-income owner is a little bit of repair: replacing a 5-cent blown capacitor, swapping out a broken screen, or replacing a dying battery. These are all trivial flaws, but manufacturers are heavy-handed to deem something wrongfully obsolete.

right to repair booth at NCSL legislative summit
Everything breaks—and we should be able to fix it when it does.

For the past 3 years, iFixit has attended NCSL’s Legislative Summit imploring our elected representatives to give us the right to repair. We believe that consumers deserve the right to repair the stuff they’ve bought. And if DIY isn’t their thing, they should get to choose where they want their stuff to get fixed. Because, like I said before, Right to Repair extends beyond tinkering—it’s about ownership. And ownership means having a choice.

It’s going to take an army of fixers to repair our broken stuff. Try to make an appointment at your local Genius bar, and you’ll quickly see that manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand for repair. Expert repair technicians fill the service and maintenance vacuum left by capricious OEMs that have no concern for the devices they put into the market. And I couldn’t be prouder to be one of them.