Without a “right of repair”, businesses waste time and money
As software and other technologies become part of more and more products, manufacturers make these products harder and harder to repair, which can cost business owners time and money.
Manufacturers of products ranging from smartphones to farm equipment can withhold repair tools and create software locks that prevent even simple updates, unless they are performed by a company-authorized repair shop.
It can cost independent repair shops valuable business and countless man hours to source high quality parts from other suppliers. Farmers can lose thousands of people while waiting for authorized dealers to fix faulty equipment. And consumers end up paying more for repairs – or to completely replace items that could have been repaired.
“If we don’t fix these issues and let the manufacturers dictate the terms of what they allow for repairs, we really risk losing access to the existing repair infrastructure,” said Nathan Proctor, senior manager of the Right to Repair campaign. at US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group.
While it’s hard to put a dollar sign on the cost of restrictions on small businesses, the U.S. PIRG estimates it costs consumers $ 40 billion a year. That works out to an average of $ 330 per American family, which ends up replacing broken phones, laptops, refrigerators and other electronics instead of having them fixed.
Jessa Jones owns iPad Rehab in Honeoye Falls, New York, which specializes in microsoldering, which means repairing electronics on a microscopic level.
She remembers a potential customer who drove an hour and a half to his repair shop because his home button no longer worked on his iPhone 7.
Jones says the iPhone had a small gash on the home button cable.
“I have a brand new home button for iPhone, I could fix it if I was allowed to,” she said.
What stuck Jones was Apple’s software that calibrates different parts of a phone like the screen and battery. While Jones herself is certified by Apple to repair phones, iPad Rehab is not an authorized Apple repair shop, so she was unable to access the software or official part and repair the iPhone 7. Many independent repair shops choose not to be licensed because the terms can cripple their business in other ways.
“Counterintuitively, Apple authorization would force me to deny 90% of the work we do or lose the authorization,” Jones says.
The customer left with no repairs, and Jones missed charges for what would have been an “easy fix.” IPad Rehab’s data recovery and repair services can cost anywhere from $ 35 to $ 600. She said that over the past three years, her business has been forced to go from half repairs and half data recovery to 90% data recovery and only 10% repairs.
The Federal Trade Commission recently signaled that things may start to change when it passed a policy statement supporting the “right to remedy” that promises stronger enforcement of current antitrust and consumer laws and could pave the way for new regulations.
For its part, Apple says its restrictions are in place for quality and safety concerns. They allow technicians to take a software and hardware exam every year. They also launched an independent repair provider program in 2019 and claim that the latest iPhone 12 “allows more repairs to be done in more repair locations than ever before.”
While Apple has been in the sights most publicly on the right to repair issue, all smartphone makers have similar policies. The problem also concerns other sectors. Farmers and farm equipment repair technicians complain that they cannot fix issues that should be fixed on tractors and combines due to software installed by manufacturers.
Sarah Rachor is a fourth-generation farmer who, with her father, runs a 600-acre farm in eastern Montana that grows sugar beets, wheat, soybeans and corn.
She owns a 1998 tractor, mainly because that was before new technology was installed in farm equipment, as well as an older 1987 combine for backup. The 1998 tractor has a manual with codes that she uses to manually reset it if something goes wrong. This is not possible with newer machines, she said.
“For anything newer than this I should call certified repair centers,” she said.
The wheat harvest only lasts a few weeks, and any failure that takes days to repair could be a disaster, she added.
“A week-long outage can easily cost thousands of dollars, on top of the repairs needed,” she said. “If I know how to do something, I shouldn’t have to wait and call a technician for something simple, or even to diagnose the problem,” she said. “I love technology, but it makes things simple more difficult. “
John Deere claims that it “supports a customer’s right to maintain, diagnose and repair their equipment safely,” but “does not support the right to modify embedded software due to the risks associated with operation. equipment safety, emissions compliance and engine performance.
Justin Maus has owned RNH Equipment in Mount Hope, Kansas since 2019. He repairs farm equipment like tractors and combines.
“We come across situations where a moisture meter on a combine has to be replaced,” he said. “We can replace it in 20 minutes, but it won’t work. We have to bring in a reseller and install software on it to make it work. Sometimes the dealership waits for a day or more.
During the harvest period, when farm equipment like combines are running at full throttle for several weeks, it is common for mechanical problems to occur. In June alone, the moisture meter problem arose three or four times among customers, Maus said.
A customer drove four hours to get a controller at a dealership. But he still had to wait another day for the dealer to have time in his schedule to install it.
The restrictions cost not only lost income, but also opportunities for growth, he said.
Without them, “not only would we be able to fix just about anything with the equipment we work on, which would make us more attractive to new and bigger customers, but we would also be more attractive to them. young new technologies entering the labor market, ”he said. noted.
Kyle Wiens, CEO and co-founder of electronic repair company iFixit, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Which sells aftermarket parts for electronics and gadgets online to consumers and small businesses, says that without the intervention by regulators, the problem will only get worse.
He said the FTC’s involvement is a good start, but more is needed. In addition to the FTC, the “right to redress” movement is advancing with state law. There are repair right bills in one form or another in 27 states, Wiens said.
“A policy is good, but we will need a rule that they enforce,” he said. “We want to get back to a level playing field. “