Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.
The Big News:
Governments Worldwide Take Aim at Monopolies
We talk a lot about the right to repair at iFixit. But the truth is that restrictions that prevent us from fixing our own stuff are just one small part of a much larger problem: the growing concentration of wealth and market power in the hands of a few, large corporations. This is the product of decades of official disinterest during which policymakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic dispensed with laws and regulations designed to reign in monopolies, under the assumption that monopolies and “trusts” were a problem of a bygone “Gilded Age.”
- The Digital Markets Act — forged in an historic deal by the European Parliament and EU member states last month, the Digital Markets Act, a sweeping set of new anti-trust rules intended to curb the market power of huge tech firms that have a strangle-hold on the internet economy. The new rules, expected in October, will apply to so-called “gatekeepers” – the largest tech companies. It will force them to allow their users operate other apps and services on their platforms. Check out Digiday’s WTF is the Digital Markets Act for a good explanation of the proposed rules. (digiday.com)
- A right to repair — The EU and member states are already at the forefront of the global effort to enshrine a right to repair personal electronics and other devices. And efforts are afoot to make that right more concrete. In a vote last month, the European Parliament’s Market and Consumer Protection Committee laid out its demands for a EU-wide right to repair. In the U.S. a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced The Fair Repair Act of 2022 (S.3830) which would require manufacturers to provide the tools and documentation necessary for consumers and third parties to repair electronic equipment. The Senate version is similar to a House bill (H.R.4006) introduced last June.
- Anti-monopoly stirrings in the U.S. Congress — the EU isn’t the only world body taking on digital monopolies. Proposed laws are making their way through Congress with bipartisan support. In the Senate, for example, the Open App Markets Act would prohibit some of the more egregious behaviors seen in closed markets like Apple’s AppStore, which required developers to use an in-app payment system owned or controlled by Apple and pay high service fees to do so. Big tech firms are pulling out all the stops to kill the bill. That includes spending record amounts of money on lobbying and tried to take their case against the bills to small businesses and the American people and bankrolling their own advocacy groups. Tech execs have also made personal appeals to policymakers.
- Bi-partisan support for trust-busting — liberal lawmakers like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have long railed against concentrations of power and wealth in the U.S. economy. But Warren’s warnings about the dangers of monopolies have taken on new seriousness as lawmakers across the aisle look with concern on the growing market and political clout of Silicon Valley giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Signs of a growing consensus on anti-trust are everywhere, from The Federal Trade Commission’s unanimous vote in July to ramp up enforcement of illegal repair restrictions to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s professed support for an automotive right to repair in a recent conversation with executives from the aftermarket repair industry (asked about the REPAIR Act, Cruz was more circumspect, saying he needed to look more closely at the details of the legislation).
- Small businesses fed up — it isn’t just lawmakers who are concerned. A recent survey of more than 900 small business owners by the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that market concentration and monopolistic practices by big companies are at the root of the most significant challenges faced by America’s independent businesses. 62% of businesses said Amazon’s control over the online market was a very or extremely significant challenge.
The right to repair powered wheelchair bill moving through the Colorado legislature raises a question: Should the right to repair movement extend to other medical devices that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and similar agencies around the world? Medical regulators aren’t yet on the repair bandwagon and device manufacturers worked to stop medical device repair bills (for instance, last year in California). As it stands, it requires voluntary efforts of device-makers themselves to ensure repairability.
Cochlear implants are small devices that enable hearing for audibly-impaired individuals and are different from hearing aids.View Device
One example is the company Cochlear Limited, a medical device company that implanted its first cochlear implant for severe hearing loss in Australia in 1982 and won the first FDA approval for such an implant in 1985. Cochlear implants are classified as neurotechnology because the electrodes implanted in the inner ear interface with the nerves; the implanted portion of the system remains in place permanently, while the sound processor that’s worn externally is regularly upgraded. The company therefore has 40 years of experience with device obsolescence, support, and upgrades. (ieee.org)
Conversations about right to repair often focus on smartphones and laptops. But the problem of anti-competitive repair restrictions is much (much) broader. It encompasses everything from farm equipment to home appliances to single-wheeled electric skateboards. Right to repair advocate and independent repair professional Louis Rossmann took to his YouTube channel to highlight the anti-repair practices of Future Motion, maker of the OneWheel electric skateboard. As Rossmann notes, replacing the battery will brick the device and require you to send it to the company’s authorized repair person to get working again. The company’s argument is a common anti-repair canard: “we care too much about the safety of our customers to allow them to replace their own battery.” Louis makes short work of that argument. Check it out.
Apple’s latest iPad Air, released last month, contains changes that should make the device easier to repair, according to iFixit.
While previous iPad Air offerings had their batteries firmly fixed into place, the new iPad Airs feature simple pull tabs that can be used to remove and replace the lithium-ion batteries. Previous iPad Airs had batteries that were glued in place and could only be removed using solvents to dissolve the glue. That’s something that makes them much easier to replace without the need for chemicals and a lot of mess. (cultofmac.com)
Four equipment dealer associations have voted to merge their operations, effective July 1, 2022. The combined association, named the North American Equipment Dealers Association (NAEDA), will represent 3,000 dealers in 24 U.S. states and nine provinces in Canada.
“One [issue] that’s huge right now, and it’s in the news all the time is right to repair,” said Rominger. Issues surrounding code modifications, getting access to proprietary computer code in the machines “get a little touchy,” Rominger said. “Equipment owners often want to modify and bypass some of the environmental features that are mandated by federal law, to have increased performance of the unit and or bypass some of the safety features that are a nuisance for them.” (Progressive Farmer)