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Right-to-repair advocates ask FTC for more aggressive rules



Right-to-repair proponents are asking the FTC to introduce new rules for electronics manufacturers that aim to make it easier for consumers to fix their own devices. The repair guide site iFixit and the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) on Tuesday submitted a petition to the federal agency, with the end goal of kicking off a new rulemaking process for right to repair. Although three states (California, Minnesota, and New York) have recently enacted right-to-repair laws, nationwide reforms have stalled in Congress. The repair reforms outlined in the petition also go well beyond what states have so far enacted. 

The Biden administration’s FTC is in support of right to repair, but proponents say more aggressive action is needed to outpace the tech industry.

“The FTC can only take action on something if they’ve got relevant rules in place,” iFixit’s sustainability director, Elizabeth Chamberlain, wrote in a blog post. “And a lot of the things that manufacturers are doing to block repair are new enough that the FTC never ruled against those things before—like using proprietary screws and parts pairing software blocks to make repair more difficult.”

“The FTC can only take action on something if they’ve got relevant rules in place.”

The “parts pairing loophole,” of which Apple is a frequent offender, is the practice of digitally linking a device’s individual parts to the device itself — meaning unpaired parts are inoperable. For many Apple product repairs, like a broken screen or new battery, for instance, consumers must buy a new part from Apple and pair it to the device by contacting the company. If not, the device will have limited functionality or, in some cases, not work at all. Critics of parts pairing say it prevents users from buying any third-party and aftermarket parts and forces consumers to only buy parts from the original manufacturer. 

iFixit and PIRG are also requesting that the FTC put in place rules requiring companies to make a product’s components easily replaceable throughout its lifespan — and to make sure that parts that easily break (such as screens) are easily available as repair parts. The groups are also asking for rules that allow consumers to take products to a repair shop of their choice or do DIY repair and require discontinued products to still have their key functions intact. In some cases, repair shops are currently required to give up personally identifiable customer information to the manufacturer, which the FTC is also being asked to bar companies from doing. Finally, repair advocates are asking the FTC to develop a repairability scoring system, similar to the one used in France and in development by other countries. 

The FTC’s rulemaking process is known to take a while, and the agency is required to ask for input from the public and other stakeholders. Not to mention: the FTC still has to decide whether to take up the petition itself. So while the right-to-repair fight continues to have momentum, it seems it’ll still have to wait a while.

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