Summary: The right to repair is an effort to put more power into the hands of consumers, allowing them to fix their own tech and keep e-waste out of landfills. But not everyone is on board. We cover what the movement is, what advocates are working towards, how companies have reacted, and how it could help consumers.
When your tech device breaks, who do you call? (We’re guessing it’s not Ghostbusters.) Whether you’re taking your iPhone to the Genius Bar at an Apple Store or sending your Nintendo Switch controller into Nintendo for joystick repairs, the brand who sold you the device is probably involved.
But what if you could make the repair yourself? Or take it to the local shop down the road and fix it? What if getting a whole new device wasn’t almost always the “cheaper” option? Instead, you could simply get the screen fixed.
Meet the Right to Repair movement.
What is the Right to Repair?
It’s the idea that if you own something, you should be able to either repair it yourself or take it to a technician that you choose, instead of being tied to the manufacturer. This was common for older home appliances and cars, but it’s become far more complicated with newer tech and anything involving a computer chip.
The advocacy group The Repair Association is working towards a few objectives.
Guaranteeing Property Rights
This is the idea that product owners need the right to repair their products or take them to an independent repair facility. It includes things like instructions from product designers to repair embedded electronics, widely distributed knowledge, and an economy that supports extending the lifespan of manufactured goods.
Achieving longer device lifespans is also the idea behind hacking planned obsolescence. It can help reduce waste and save you money — and it’s a lot easier if you’ve got the right to repair.
Creating Equal Access
Guaranteed property rights are fairly useless if independent repair technicians and consumers don’t have access to the same information as the dealer’s facilities. The Repair Association is addressing that, too.
- Information: this includes making manuals, schematics and circuit diagrams, software updates, and licenses publicly available and clear. It also restricts the use of End User License Agreements, which modify and limit future support options.
- Parts and Tools: makes service parts and tools available at comparable pricing to equipment owners and third-party repair technicians. This includes patents and diagnostics.
- Unlocking: legalizes unlocking, adapting, and modifying any part of the device — including the software.
- Design: use Design for Repair principles and follow eco-design practices.
The need to repair products goes far beyond Bluetooth speakers, video doorbells, and phones. Think bigger: it could be used to repair John Deere tractors, medical equipment, and other large-scale goods used across virtually every industry.
Do Companies Support the Right to Repair?
Yes and no — it depends on what company you’re focusing on.
According to the Public Interest Research Group, the companies that are lobbying against Right to Repair legislation are worth a cumulative total of about $10.7 trillion. It includes Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tesla, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, T-Mobile, Medtronic, Caterpillar, John Deere, General Electric, and others. These companies have argued that these rights would open consumers up to attacks by hackers or allow users to bypass certain emissions laws.
Wondering why companies would be opposed to this law? Well, it would create more competition for repair markets (if you have the choice between driving a few hours to the nearest Genius Bar or just taking your Apple product to a different repair shop a few miles away, which would most people choose?) and would threaten the current business models, which are based on disposability.
More than 60% of Apple’s revenue comes from new iPhone sales — so it’s in their best interest to encourage users to upgrade to a new phone instead of replacing the battery, screen, or other components of their current device.
That said, other companies do support the right to repair. Repair and recycling companies like Free Geek, Homeboy Electronics Recycling, the ACLU, and more. Outside of tech, Patagonia has already fully embraced this mindset with its lifetime garment repair, refurbished product line, and their repair guides.
Is the Right to Repair Good for Consumers?
Again, this varies depending on who you ask. But the general consensus is that the right to repair is good for consumers and the environment.
It gives consumers more choice in who repairs their equipment, how it’s done, and even how much it costs. Plus, it means that people are more likely to be able to repair their existing devices instead of tossing them out and getting a newer model.
Even Apple seems to be getting on board with the launch of their Self Service Repair, which allows customers to access certified Apple parts and tools. Right now, it’s available for some iPhone models and Mac computers. In other words, they’re putting more control and power into the hands of the consumers, rather than holding the Genius Bar as one of the only options for fixing a broken device.
It also means you can fix your devices faster. Maybe your phone’s depleted ability to hold a charge is annoying, but not urgent, so you’re fine waiting to get it fixed. But what if it was a piece of medical equipment?
According to Harvard, the number of wheelchair breakdowns is increasing. Repairs can take up to 17 days, leaving people stranded inside or outside of their homes or stuck in beds. Between reduced technician availability, locked-down software, and even required pre-approval from insurance companies, these urgent repairs are complex. To combat that, Colorado’s governor recently signed a right to repair law for power wheelchair users. Advocates of this movement are pushing for similar legislation across the country in order to help the most people.
While we’re waiting for this legislation to give more power to the people, we can help when your tech is acting up. Check out EarthLink EasyTech, our remote tech support solution. It offers unlimited expert remote IT support for your entire home and family. No need to hunt down an answer on YouTube when you can get personalized advice from the palm of your hand. Our experts can solve problems for just about any smart device you have so you can get back to your day. Psst: it pairs great with fiber internet.