Make a product that could break? On July 16, 2019, the FTC hosted a workshop to examine repair restrictions on consumer goods and the “Right to Repair” bills proposed in a number of states. Panelists included representatives from trade associations, the repair and technology industries, and state senators. The Nixing the Fix workshop discussed some of the issues that arise when a manufacturer restricts access or makes it impossible for a consumer or an independent repair shop to make product repairs, and whether such restrictions infringe consumers’ rights.
The discussion during the workshop coalesced around three themes: what is broken, the nature of the repair, and who will conduct the repair. Manufacturer representatives argued that products are getting more sophisticated and therefore more dangerous to fix. They also stated that third party replacement parts and services may be of lower quality and could affect the safety, security, and performance of the product. Manufacturers could face increased liability in connection with the third party parts and services. In addition, requiring reparability of devices could stymie innovative features such as the slim battery.
Consumer advocates urged that manufacturers should sell legitimate parts to repair shops and factor reparability into the design of the product. They asserted that some manufacturing changes (such as gluing in a battery, or epoxying an entire product shut) have limited or no innovative advantages and are done in large part to prevent consumers from fixing their own devices. As a result, consumers are forced to purchase new products.
Panelists proposed a few approaches to address these issues:
- Require manufacturers to release their product information. Many manufacturers already provide their certified repair shops with information on their products and how to repair and replace defective parts. Consumer and repair shop advocates believe that this information should be shared with everyone.
- Allow consumers to pay for reparability. One panelist argued for a federally mandated repair score, which would indicate how much of the product is reparable. Consumers could then choose between a repairable and a non-repairable device, and that the products should be priced accordingly.
- Right to Repair bills. Twenty states have considered right to repair legislation, though some of these bills are no longer active.
In opening and closing remarks, the FTC thanked all in attendance for their participation on this issue and urged all interested stakeholders to submit comments on this issue for agency review. Comments may be filed until September 16, 2019, electronically or in written form. The FTC will consider the comments to inform potential next steps, such as issuing federal guidance on the right to repair standard.