Federal agency considers “right to repair” rules to help consumers and repair shops

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WASHINGTON >> Americans would be freer to self-repair broken cell phones, computers, video game consoles and even tractors or use independent repair shops as part of changes being considered by federal regulators targeting the restrictions manufacturers.

In response to a new competition directive from the Biden White House, the Federal Trade Commission is set to draft new rules to help small repair businesses and save consumers money on repair costs. The five FTC commissioners today addressed the issue of the “right to redress”.

Unavailable parts, instruction manuals and diagnostic software and tools, product design restrictions and locks on software embedded in devices have made many consumer products more difficult to repair and maintain, according to regulators and industry critics. Do-it-yourself repairs often require specialized tools, hard-to-obtain parts, and access to manufacturer-protected diagnostic software.

The restrictions have either steered consumers into the repair networks of manufacturers and sellers or led them to replace products before the end of their useful life, regulators say. According to the FTC and the Biden administration, this raises issues of anti-competitive conduct.

Repair restrictions often fall more heavily on minority and low-income consumers, according to regulators. An FTC report to Congress in May noted that many small black-owned businesses carried out equipment repairs, and repair shops were often owned by contractors from poor communities.

For minority and low-income consumers, repair restrictions are particularly severe on cellphones, according to the report. These consumers often have cell phones but no broadband access for home computers, increasing their reliance on phones.

Critics in the industry say the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the effects of repair restrictions on all consumers, as computers have become essential for working remotely, home-schooling children, and visiting relatives on trips. screens – while many large chain stores have stopped offering onsite repairs.

Allowing consumers to do their own repairs “saves money, and it allows electronic devices to be used and scrapped,” says Nathan Proctor, director of the US Right to Repair campaign. Public Interest Research Group. “It helps farmers keep equipment on the ground and off the concession,” Proctor said in a recent statement. “More repair choices will protect the environment by reducing the amount of new electronics we make and the old stuff we throw away.”

Manufacturers, on the other hand, argue that repair restrictions are necessary to protect intellectual property, protect consumers from injury that could result from repairing a product or using an improperly repaired product, and guarding against cybersecurity risks. Manufacturers say they could be held liable or damage their reputation if independent repair shops perform repairs to defective equipment.

New laws and regulations on the right to redress “would create innumerable harms and unintended consequences for consumers and manufacturers, including by limiting consumer choice, hampering innovation, threatening safety and welfare. being consumers, (and) opening the door to counterfeits, ”the National Association of Manufacturers said in a prepared statement.

Legislation to ease restitution restrictions is active in around 25 states, and the European Community is also considering new regulations on the right to compensation.

The remedial directive was included in President Joe Biden’s executive order released earlier this month targeting what he called anti-competitive practices in tech, healthcare, banking and others. key sectors of the economy. The order has 72 actions and recommendations that Biden said would lower prices for families, raise workers’ wages, and promote innovation and faster economic growth. However, new regulations agencies can draft to translate its policy into rules could spark epic legal battles.

“Let’s be clear: capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It’s exploitation, ”Biden said at a White House signing ceremony.

The order includes calls to ban or limit so-called non-compete agreements to help raise wages, allowing rule changes to pave the way for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids in pharmacies and prohibiting excessive early termination fees by Internet companies. He calls on the transportation department to consider requiring airlines to reimburse fees when baggage is delayed or in-flight services are not provided as advertised.


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