FTC Protects Competition, Strengthening Repair

FTC Protects Competition, Strengthening Repair

Every week there are too many developments in the world of repair for any mere mortal to keep track of; fortunately, the authors of the Fight to Repair newsletter, including Jack Monahan, are no mere mortals, at least when it comes to recapping the most important repair news. Each week, they highlight the biggest and most important repair story you need to know about.

The Big News

FTC Weeding Out Anticompetitive Practices

Last week the Federal Trade Commission released a memo signaling that it would broaden its definition of “unfair methods of competition.” This policy change, coming in the form of new guidance on Section 5 of the FTC Act, strengthens the FTC’s ability to protect competition in a number of different sectors from vehicle manufacturers to grocery stores. The underlying principle of competition remains crucial in making repair more widespread. By expanding their definition of unfair practices, the FTC is better able to hone in on malicious practices that hurt consumers. 

What does that mean for the world of repair? When businesses don’t have to compete with anyone, they are no longer beholden to their customers—and in repair, that equals expensive, inaccessible fixes. It can mean prices for common repairs set at exactly the point where buying new looks better. It can mean long wait times, when manufacturers closing all local shops and funneling repairs through a couple small, overworked manufacturer service centers. Until now, businesses have sometimes justified repair restrictions by arguing that their terms meet the old narrower FTC definition of fairness. Now, the FTC is promising that businesses will have to compete on their merits of their services, not restrict competition artificially.

When companies engage in anticompetitive practices that hurt consumers, they often have such a grip on the market that turning off customers isn’t a problem. Take the lawsuit against John Deere for its consolidation of the midwestern repair markets. When customers had nowhere to turn but Deere and faced rotting crops and thousands of dollars of lost revenue, some sought drastic steps like pirating software from the dark web while others had to sit around and wait for authorized repairers.

Maybe no one ever said a dog can’t play soccer. But now the FTC’s giving itself back the power to address that kind of ridiculous loophole in the competitive marketplace of repair.
Photo via Sam Lion on Pexels.

The “unfair methods of competition” policy change will hopefully help give the FTC power to dissuade this kind of behavior.

The Anticompetition Camp

Multinational corporations and other business giants whose profits depend on unfair practices are inclined to keep things the way they are. This is why groups like the Chamber of Commerce (a trade group lobbying for business interests) came out in opposition to this policy change—arguing the change will “discourage healthy competition and damage America’s competitiveness.” It takes some strange logic to defend the position that the FTC protecting fair competition will damage competitiveness.

Maybe unsurprisingly, members of Congress who have a strong financial interest in unfair competition have also been opposed to this shift. In a Congressional hearing on right to repair earlier this year, Congressman Roger Williams, the seventh richest member of Congress with a $66 million net worth, made an impassioned speech about the impact that right to repair would have on businesses—repeating industry talking points about requiring businesses to sell parts at cost (which don’t exist in the bill’s language). The fact that people like Williams with the power to make a right to repair a reality are so lockstep with business interests is disheartening.

But big business pushing back against the FTC is likely a good sign the policy change has some power.

The Repair-Competition Connection

The implications for the FTC’s policy change means more strict enforcement and deterrence against unfair and anticompetitive practices. In non legal-speak, that means consumers will likely pay less, small businesses will benefit, and the practices we see companies using to restrict repair will be less likely to go unnoticed. The FTC’s high-level approach to the issue of competition can support repair in a number of different ways: cracking down on unfair warranties, keeping customers from getting locked into authorized repair, and lowering costs through increased competition.

The freedom to repair stands to benefit greatly from more free markets, and the FTC is working to make that the case with this new policy change.

Other News

  • Treating phones like cars: A NYT piece shows the inconsistency in how certain products are treated when it comes to repair—things like cars receive maintenance while phones and electronics get tossed prematurely. Another Times article took a look at the growing trend of manufacturers leasing, rather than selling smartphones to customers and weighed the pros and cons.
  • Older Macs “obsolete” at the end of the month: MacRumors obtained a leaked document from Apple showing that models from 2013 and 2014 will be marked as “obsolete” and no longer eligible for repair.
    • Plus: While Apple is expected to switch new iPhones to USB-C next year, you’ll still need a lightning cable to charge the new Airpods (unless you shell out for a fancy upgraded USB-C case).
  • Modern bicycles don’t prioritize repair: A piece from Outside highlights that more modern bicycle features (from hydraulic disc brakes to increasingly sophisticated suspension and electronic shifting) are making repairs more difficult—and it might be bad news for everything else we own.
  • COP27 brought to you by Coca-Cola®: Environmental activists are calling out the hypocrisy of having multinational corporations and mega-polluters sponsor the global climate summit COP.
  • Canadian copyright & repair bill: Advocates are trying to fast-track a new bill in Canada that amends copyright law to make it easier for consumers to repair their devices at an affordable price.
  • Repair organizations promote resilience: A recent piece from The Guardian highlights how organizations in the U.K. are teaching repair skills, reducing waste, and building resilience as the cost of goods rise.
  • Businesses could adopt “remanufacturing” model: A Forbes article posits that if manufacturers buy back certain products from their distributors, they can disassemble the returned products, extract high-value parts, and upgrade the component’s capabilities for reuse in advanced releases.
  • iFixit expands Google Pixel parts: iFixit is now selling repair parts and kits for the Pixel 6a.
Device Page

Google Pixel 6a

Repair guides and documentation for the Google Pixel 6a with 5G smartphone. Released in July 2022.

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