Microsoft’s Support Fails to Save a Right to Repair Bill in Washington
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Microsoft’s Support Fails to Save a Right to Repair Bill in Washington

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Microsoft has been backing a right-to-repair bill in Washington state, as reported by Maddie Stone at Grist—a decision that has been met with both celebration and hesitancy by right to repair proponents.

The company, which declared right to repair a “priority” in a statement, marks a significant departure from previous opposition. In 2019 the tech giant took part in a coalition headed by trade association TechNet which helped take down a similar bill in Washington. Since then the company’s position has evolved. In 2021, Microsoft caught praise from iFixit for their newfound focus on repair as a sustainability issue and adjusting product designs to better accommodate home repairs. Shortly after these announcements, a state-wide poll found that (in early 2022) just under 70% of the state’s residents supported an electronics right to repair bill.

Washington is home to tech giants including Amazon and Washington, but it also has a strong repair and reuse culture: There are five tool rental libraries in Seattle alone.

Right to repair legislation has moved significantly in the last year: New York passed a softened electronics repair bill; Colorado passed both a power wheelchair and, in recent days, an agricultural equipment repair bill. Pressure from proposed legislation has also prompted a number of concessions from the agricultural equipment industry in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding.

There is also a growing public awareness and support of right to repair. Still, Microsoft’s intentions are mostly focused on environmental impact with intentions to be carbon negative by 2030 and now annual environmental sustainability reports.

Let’s consider the bigger picture: despite Microsoft’s explicit support of the Washington right to repair bill, the legislation still failed to advance out of committee in the face of opposition from three Republican members and one Democratic member—herself a former Apple employee. Microsoft subsequently expressed disappointment in that outcome in a statement.

“We were disappointed that legislation to expand safe, reliable, and sustainable options for device repair fell short of passage. The bill before the legislature fairly balanced the interests of manufacturers, customers, and independent repair shops, and, in doing so, would have provided more viable options for device repair,” the company wrote.

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Other News

  • WAPO editorial calls right to repair the ‘next big thing’ in politics: “There aren’t many issues that unite Democratic, Republican and independent voters, offer a ready-made villain in greedy corporations, and tick off people from all different socioeconomic groups,” writes Paul Waldman in a recent Washington Post editorial. “Which is why the ‘right-to-repair’ movement could gain real momentum, and why any politician looking to demonstrate real populist bona fides—rather than the phony kind—should jump on it.”
  • Biden Administration hails repair at an anti-monopoly summit: NEC Director and White House Competition Council Chair Lael Brainard gave a shout-out to the right to repair. Speaking at an Anti-Monopoly Summit, Brainard said consumer products were becoming easier to repair after President Biden endorsed the right to repair. “Apple and Microsoft announced they would allow people to fix their own devices. And the Federal Trade Commission has successfully secured settlements making it easier to repair grills, motorcycles, and generators,” Brainard told attendees.
  • The European Council officially backs right to repair: In a statement, the European Council said it adopted a “negotiating mandate” on a proposed directive to “empower consumers for the green transition” by amending the EU’s unfair commercial practices directive (UCPD) and the consumer rights directive (CRD). “We want to be sure that consumers are equipped to play that role with reliable information, protection against misleading advertisement, and easier ways to recycle or repair,” said Erik Slottner, Swedish Minister for Public Administration.
  • Converting roadsters into EVs: Turning gas-powered cars into EVs highlights the importance of the specialized knowledge needed for deep-level EV repairs, suggesting that the industry can rely on a “hub and spoke” approach, similar to remanufacturing in the automotive industry—with potential for extending this concept to the broader EV industry, including right to repair laws and new business models based on distributing knowledge. The owner of the business anticipates that IoT and AI will further shape the industry.
  • Vermont-based loggers want a right to repair: A logging company threw their support behind legislation in their state (H.81, the Right to Repair Act.), emphasizing the need for loggers and farmers to have access to tools, parts, manuals, and diagnostic equipment. They also cited the challenges of repairing modern machinery and the limited availability of OEM resources, with high costs associated with diagnostic software for John Deere equipment in particular. Independence and self-sufficiency for loggers and farmers in remote areas is crucial, where waiting for dealer repairs is not always feasible.
  • Farmers have FOMO for agricultural repair: Speaking to Cowboy State Daily, Wyoming Farm Bureau spokesman Brett Moline said farmers in the state are suffering under the thumb of manufacturers’ repair restrictions, with expensive service calls and long waits – pain that is especially acute after farmers in neighboring Colorado won a right to repair their equipment earlier this month. Given Wyoming’s short growing season, delays in repair have significant consequences, and while a right to repair was proposed in Wyoming, it failed to pass.
  • Minnesota’s “Digital Fair Repair Act”: Minnesota passed a bill through its House and Senate which would allow consumers to choose independent repairs for digital electronics, while Illinois is aiming to support schools repairing electronics by providing them with the necessary resources to repair and extend the lifespan of classroom technology, such as Chromebooks. The bill would ensure schools have access to information, tools, spare parts, and software, making it more affordable to maintain and use the devices for educational purposes.
  • Austria’s repair stipends gain popularity: Stipends focused on reducing the disposal of electrical devices have surpassed expectations with over 560,000 redeemed vouchers of up to €200 to subsidize the cost of repairs.