Right to Repair

Wall Street Journalist Backs Right to Repair

Geoffrey Fowler has a friend with a Samsung TV that inexplicably stopped working halfway through a movie. Geoff’s friend thought she had no other option than to replace it. Geoffrey—a writer with Wall Street Journal—wondered what it would take to fix the flat screen TV. And so, he went down the repair rabbit hole.

“We ended up with a project that changed my view on our shop-till-you-drop gadget culture,” writes Geoff. “We’re more capable of fixing technology than we realize, but the electronics industry doesn’t want us to know that. In many ways, it’s obstructing us.”

Geoff’s story is common enough. Things break every day—that’s the nature of entropy. But being a tinkerer is knowing that “broken” isn’t the end. Indeed, for most tinkerers, repair techs, and DIY masters, “broken” is an origin story. It’s how most of us got started: with one broken phone, or one broken toy, or one broken radio. And that repair journey broadened into a hobby, or a passion, or even a business. iFixit, for example, got its start after our co-founder dropped a laptop from a bed, broke the charge port, and decided to fix it himself. In the process, he learned that manufacturers aren’t making it easy to repair stuff: most companies don’t release repair information and many don’t sell repair parts to either the public or to independent repair technicians—and that’s something that needs to change.

Geoff came to the same conclusion. Geoff’s 2008 Samsung 40-inch television was out of warranty. A little Google troubleshooting revealed that the television suffered from a problem endemic to his model: a blown capacitor. But Samsung doesn’t publish repair instructions on its website. Instead, a Samsung spokesperson pointed Geoff to an official Samsung repair center, which wanted over $200 for diagnosis and repair—that’s more than half of the cost of a new, similarly-sized television.

There’s a huge gap in repair information—especially for devices like televisions. Often online repair guides (like this one for an RCA HDTV from iFixit) are the only real way for consumers to get inside and repair their own devices.

Still, a capacitor is a tiny, super cheap component. And Geoff found full DIY repair kits online for just $12. So, Geoff wondered—could he fix it himself? Spoiler alert: he did—with $20 in parts and tools, a repair tutorial video he found on the Internet, and absolutely no help from Samsung. In between, Geoff visited Repair Cafés, delved into iFixit’s community, investigated Right to Repair legislation, talked to electronics manufacturers about repair, and installed a temporary electronics workshop at his office (which he dubbed Geoff’s Tech Repair). That’s where he fixed his coworker’s television.

When I was ready to plug the reassembled TV back in, my curious colleagues kept their distance—no one believed a TV was the kind of thing you could fix yourself. But when it turned on immediately, wild applause erupted.

The lesson: Repairing stuff isn’t as complicated as they want you to think. Geoff’s Tech Repair may be closed for now, but skilled gadget owners and independent repair pros deserve access to the information they need to do the best job they can.

The article is a fascinating read. It’s a great overview of both the institutional barriers to repair and the thrill of fixing something on your own. Head on over to the Wall Street Journal for the full article.