Biden Administration Pushes for Right-to-Repair Law 

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By Ketrin Agustine

Biden Administration Pushes for Right-to-Repair Law 

President Joe Biden is pushing for federal legislation that would expand U.S. consumers’ right to fix their own electronics — a move that the White House predicts will save the average American family $400 a year and reduce the nation’s massive output of electronic waste.

The legislation Biden seeks has far-ranging implications that will touch supply lines, consumers and workers around the world, advocates say.

Earlier this week, Apple threw its support behind Biden’s push. At a White House event on the issue, a senior official from the California-based company called for “strong national right-to-repair legislation” and pledged to honor, nationwide, a new California law on the matter.

Lael Brainard, director of the National Economic Council, this week laid out the White House’s view, which is that by not providing access to parts, diagrams and tools, companies are imposing “unfair anti-competitive restrictions.”

“For everything from smartphones to wheelchairs to cars to farm equipment, too often manufacturers make it difficult to access spare parts, manuals and tools necessary to make fixes,” she said this week.

“Consumers are compelled to go back to the dealer and pay the dealer’s price or to discard and replace the device entirely. This not only costs consumers money, but it prevents independent repair shops from competing for the business and creates unnecessary waste by shortening the life span of devices.”

Years of effort

American advocacy groups have been pushing states to enact right-to-repair protections for at least a decade, said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition.

And while her group welcomes Biden’s support for federal legislation and Apple’s support, “it doesn’t mean quite as much as it appears,” she said.

“Apple got behind this bill so that they didn’t have a stronger bill that would have been more uncomfortable for them and would have made more significant progress with right-to-repair. So they got behind this to avoid worse, in their view,” she said.

“So, it will help. I think the impact that it’s going to have obviously will be worldwide, because these manufacturers operate around the world.”

It might seem, advocates say, that this is a no-brainer for consumers.

“Who doesn’t want the right to repair?” asked the nonprofit Public Interest Research Groups. “Companies worth over $10 trillion.”

But opponents argue that such legislation could infringe on copyrights and lead to higher consumer prices, lower-quality products and depressed innovation.

“Unnecessary government intervention in a thriving market should be avoided,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in a policy paper on the issue earlier this year.

But Gordon-Byrne argued that without such legislation, profit-seeking companies would have no interest in making sure their customers can access parts and information to fix their own stuff.

“Left to their own devices, the manufacturers will simply stop selling parts, tools. diagrams. They’ll just stop,” she said. “Basically, they can just do less and make it impossible for you to repair your product.

“So, we have to have more of an active approach towards requiring the provision of repair materials. Because if they stop, they stop, and then nobody can fix anything.”

It’s not clear when any legislation could be debated by Congress, which only this week installed a House speaker after several chaotic, leaderless weeks.

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