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Last week, the Colorado General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a national scoring system for electronic device repairs. The resolution, sponsored by 48 members of the Colorado House of Representatives and 18 state senators calls on the Federal Trade Commission to establish “criteria that manufacturers of electronic devices may use to voluntarily assign repairability scores” on devices that “may be displayed to consumers at the point of sale.”
The aim of the scoring system, which has already been adopted in France, would make the repairability of products both easy to understand and present when buying an electronic product.
In the resolution, the criteria that electronics would be graded on include:
- Availability of technical documentation
- Ease of disassembly
- Availability of spare parts
- Pricing of spare parts
- Length of software supports
While information exists on repairability for customers to search out themselves (for example, on iFixit) presenting a repairability score at the time of purchase takes the responsibility off the consumer and puts it on the manufacturer. That’s a good thing because, no surprise, consumers have a lot on their minds when they’re shopping (like price, availability, brand). Repairability isn’t usually at the top of the list.
US repair advocates first formally asked the FTC to develop a repairability scoring system in comments on a proposed revision to their yellow Energy Guide labeling system. Last night, the FTC entered the next phase of that rulemaking process and declined to establish a repairability scoring system (yet). However, they noted that they “remain interested and engaged with stakeholders” on repair issues. They have another chance to act in responding to repair advocates’ rulemaking proposal, which has a public comment period closing today.
France, the original pioneer of the repairability score, calls their scheme the Indice de réparabilité. It is administered by the country’s Le Ministère de la Transition écologique et de la Cohésion des territoires (or The Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion). The index initially covered smartphones, laptops, televisions, washing machines, and lawnmowers. And a more recent change extended the index to cover top-load washing machines, dishwashers, pressure washers, and vacuum cleaners.
Data collected and analyzed on behalf of Samsung suggests that the repairability index is having the desired effect. In 2021, a few months after the scoring system came into effect, the research firm OpinionWay looked at how the French repairability index influenced French consumer attitudes and behavior. The firm found that almost three-quarters of consumers (71%) had heard of the index. Beyond that, 86% of those surveyed said that the index does or will impact their purchasing behavior.
The existing French system, however, is not perfect. It is limited in scope, covering a tiny fraction of all the consumer goods sold. And its scores are self-declared by manufacturers. Prior to 2022, there were no sanctions for noncompliance. These constraints offer lessons to be learned in the implementation of a repair score in the U.S. such as independent scoring and toothier sanctions.
Meanwhile, in the EU, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre is working on developing an EU-wide repairability scoring system, based on the French score.
Another piece of the puzzle
We know that the right to repair is not simply about requiring companies to sell spare parts. Coupled with right to repair laws, actions to curb monopolies, and many other efforts, the repair score would be one of many contributors to reducing e-waste and putting money back in the hands of everyday people.
Put simply, repairability scores are a policy tool in a broader toolbelt that would help to make consumers aware of the currently hidden costs associated with buying a device. Colorado’s resolution, although it will not result in an immediate change in federal policy, is important when taken together with other initiatives trying to make repair scores a reality in the U.S. For example: the group Environment America led a coalition of Maine residents who wanted their legislature to pass repair scores. Plus, U.S. PIRG is trying to take on big companies to offer repair scores voluntarily—calling for Amazon to list repair scores that it already offers (in other countries) to U.S. shoppers.
To bring about change, we can’t let up on the steady drumbeat calling for repairability scores and access to parts and information.
- Maine politicians want to rewrite the auto-repair law: Proposed changes to the approved referendum measure from last year would rewrite the law without the requirements for an independent oversight entity and a standardized database platform. The Maine Right to Repair Coalition believes that these amendments could weaken the protections and impact of the current law, potentially allowing car manufacturers to monopolize automotive repairs in the state.
- Breaking free from DRM—the story of hacking my air purifier: After purchasing a Xiaomi 4 Pro air purifier, the author encountered (familiar) issues with a “0% remaining” filter warning and locked RFID chip on the replaceable filters (we’ve seen this with water filters on refrigerators, also). The post outlines how the author was able to unlock the filter and reset it using NFC tools on an NFC-enabled mobile phone. After resetting the filter, it can be used hassle-free for air purification. A list of compatible Xiaomi air purifiers with the reset method is provided, including the Xiaomi 4 Pro model.
- Apple uses software to control how phones get fixed and lawmakers are pushing back: Fast Company reports on how legislatures are pushing back against anti-repair restrictions by vendors like Apple. The article profiles Romain Godin, owner of Hyperion Computerworks, and the challenges he faces repairing iPhones due to parts pairing, in which Apple’s proprietary software now requires parts to be “paired” with the phone before functioning. Independent repair shops like Hyperion lose business due to these hurdles, and lawmakers in more states are passing right-to-repair laws to address the issue; some laws introduced in 2024 would explicitly ban parts pairing. For example, a bill introduced in Oregon’s legislature would ban parts pairing and represents a significant step for right-to-repair advocates. The European Union is also negotiating rules against parts pairing to make repair more accessible.