Hot on the heels of last week’s victory in the New York state senate, the fight for Right to Repair comes to the US Congress. Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the first broad federal Right to Repair bill: the Fair Repair Act.
“As electronics become integrated into more and more products in our lives, Right to Repair is increasingly important to all Americans,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. Lawmakers everywhere are realizing the need to protect our Right to Repair—along with progress in the EU and Australia, 27 US states introduced Right to Repair legislation this year, a record number.
Congressman Joe Morelle’s federal bill, like those state bills, would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair businesses with access to the parts, tools, and information they need to fix electronic devices.
Electronics manufacturers have locked down our tech, restricted access to replacement parts and repair information like manuals and schematics, and monopolized the market for repair services. In doing so, they’ve squeezed out local repair shops in the process and undermined our ability to fully own the things we buy.
These repair restrictions make it even harder for low income and marginalized Americans to afford the devices they need to work, learn, and access critical services remotely. These monopoly tactics are enlarging an already stark digital divide – In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, supply chain disruptions meant US School Districts were short 5 million laptops. And Refurbishers, like Oregon’s Free Geek, who help people access technology for free or at low cost, are struggling to meet demand as manufacturers make devices harder to repair and restrict access to replacement parts.
As Amber Schmidt, Manager of Technology Refurbishment at Free Geek, testified in support of Washington state’s Right to Repair bill, “[C]urrently just two of our [partners] have over 1100 outstanding applications for computers. These applications are outstanding because of lack of supply of repairable devices and lack of parts to repair the ones that are viable.”
If Congress passes the Fair Repair Act, it would help organizations like Free Geek get access to the tools and parts they need to keep providing their community with affordable computers.
Farmers, who’ve long fixed their own tractors, now find themselves without access to specialized software tools they need to diagnose equipment failures, install replacement parts, and get their tractors back to work in the fields. As Missouri farmer and state representative Barry Hovis explained, “[W]hen I tried to buy the software tools I needed to do simple things like sync a new part to my tractor, I came up empty. And because independent repair shops get the same treatment from manufacturers, I’m forced to turn to the dealer for repair.”
For farmers like Barry, that can mean long delays that put yields at risk. Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act would ensure that farmers have the same access to specialized repair tools that branded dealerships do.
At iFixit, we believe that big tech companies shouldn’t get to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff. We applaud Congressman Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and standing up for farmers, independent repair shops, and consumers nationwide.
“For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment,” said Congressman Morelle. “It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. 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.”
We’re pleased to see Congress taking these problems seriously. In addition to supporting Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act, we urge Congress to pass much-needed reforms to Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, to clarify that circumventing software locks to repair devices is always legal, and to expressly support the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to tackle unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive repair restrictions.