Earlier this year, iFixit, U.S. PIRG, and the Repair Association delivered over 15,000 signatures to the Federal Trade Commission, calling on the agency to take action to protect our right to fix our devices. Today the FTC took an important step towards protecting your Right to Repair, issuing a policy statement committing the Commission to aggressive action against manufacturers who impose unfair repair restrictions.
“The FTC sets the tone for the nation’s commerce. For too long, manufacturers have been bullying consumers and driving local repair shops out of business,” said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. “This landmark new policy changes that. There’s a new sheriff in town.”
The statement, unanimously approved by the commission, cites a need for greater enforcement against unlawful repair restrictions. “Restricting consumers and businesses from choosing how they repair products can substantially increase the total cost of repairs, generate harmful electronic waste, and unnecessarily increase wait times for repairs,” the statement reads. “In contrast, providing more choice in repairs can lead to lower costs, reduce e-waste by extending the useful lifespan of products, enable more timely repairs, and provide economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and local businesses.”
“Today’s policy statement is a significant and important step in making clear that the FTC is dedicated to eliminating anti-competitive and anti-consumer restrictions and empowering all consumers with choice and access to repair their products and extend the life of expensive but indispensable equipment,” said FTC Commissioner and former Acting Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.
In a meeting otherwise beset with stark partisan divisions, the policy statement was a rare and impressive example of bipartisan consensus, with Commissioners Christine S. Wilson and Noah Joshua Phillips citing the need for renewed focus on consumer repair choice.
“I absolutely agree that there are many unwarranted restrictions that make it excessively difficult and expensive for consumers to attain repairs,” Phillips said.
Policy statements are one way government agencies clarify the issues they intend to prioritize, the lens through which they view those issues, and any actions that might follow. Unlike new rules, policy statements don’t create new law, they just clarify how the agency interprets existing laws and how it views its authority to take action against companies breaking those laws.
Policy statements can have a big impact. An FTC policy statement in 1995 reversed the commission’s policy on “prior approval” before certain companies—denied unlawful, competition-stifling mergers in the past—could seek a merger once more. The Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to rescind that 1995 policy statement, effectively bringing prior approval back into enforcement.
Following President Joe Biden’s Executive Order issued earlier this month, which asked the Federal Trade Commission to create new rules against repair restrictions, this policy statement shows that the FTC is moving full steam ahead to address anticompetitive repair restrictions. It’s one part of what we hope will be the agency’s multi-pronged attack on anti-repair manufacturers.
With a policy statement on fixing the repair market on the books, iFixit will continue (with your help) to urge the FTC to take action against anti-repair manufacturers and to create new rules prohibiting unfair and deceptive repair restrictions that hurt device owners and stifle competition in the repair market. The FTC had already completed significant research on the topic, holding a workshop on repair restrictions in July 2019 and issuing their findings as a report, “Nixing the Fix,” in May. That report found “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions,” and noted that warranty laws were routinely violated by companies denying repairs.
The best thing the FTC could do next is talk to the people who fix things, said Kerry Maeve Sheehan, U.S. policy lead for iFixit. Today’s FTC open meeting also saw independent repair professionals and advocates speak up to support the FTC’s action on Right to Repair, including repair expert Jessa Jones, and Repair Association board member Joe Marion.
“The FTC’s progress addressing repair restrictions shows how much momentum Right to Repair has achieved, and how powerful our community can be when we work together,” Sheehan said. “The FTC can play a significant role in making sure that when you buy a product, you own it, and you have the right to fix it by enforcing the law against manufacturers, and by creating new rules prohibiting repair restrictions that stifle competition and harm technology owners and small businesses. The best way to shape those rules is by listening to people in the repair community—DIY fixers and repair professionals alike.”
The FTC can also help state and federal lawmakers working on Right to Repair legislation. As Commissioner Rohit Chopra said, “[T]he commission should also devote resources to assisting policy makers, including at the state and local level, as they craft Right to Repair laws.”
The FTC’s statement today should send a clear signal that the tide has turned against anti-repair manufacturers. If manufacturers continue to restrict independent repair, they could find themselves on the wrong end of an FTC enforcement action, and on the hook for sizable penalties.