Ben Margot / AP
High technology has become ubiquitous in our lives. Everything from tractors and toasters to what we used to call phones are now built with microchips. But when these devices and machines fail, your choices for fixing them are quite limited.
“Anything that has a chip now is actually unusual, rare even that someone can help you repair these products other than the manufacturer,” says Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, who wants to make it easier for iPhone owners, farmers and other consumers to get their products repaired.
President Biden is on board. He issued an executive order earlier this month calling on the Federal Trade Commission to draft regulations that would require manufacturers to change their policies and allow what consumer groups are calling the “right to repair.”
Consumer organizations like the US Public Interest Research Group are also behind this effort. Nathan Proctor, director of the US PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, says manufacturers will not make spare parts and critical information available to consumers and repair shops.
“They use software locking to lock repairs with software,” he says. “They won’t let you access diagnostic features,” which Proctor says the Right to Repair movement is looking for.
Of course, there are stores that offer limited iPhone repairs. Chad Johansen runs a chain of repair stores in New Hampshire called NH iPhone Repair that replaces items like cracked screens and dead batteries, using parts from third-party manufacturers.
Johansen says “Apple and the big guys” don’t want to give up the repair business “because people come in instead of fixing the phone, they sell them a new one and say, oh, you should upgrade instead of repair for X amount of dollars. “
And all of those smartphone upgrades and replacements come with another problem, Proctor says: e-waste. Americans, he says, get rid of 416,000 cell phones a day.
Manufacturers, for their part, say allowing third-party access to people’s devices could pose cybersecurity risks, and Apple says it has increased the number of its authorized independent repair providers.
Johansen of NH iPhone Repair says consumers should always have more choice and be allowed to “do it themselves at home and have the tools and parts to do it. They can choose a small local business like me and support the premises, or they can go to the original equipment manufacturer and have it fixed, as if you were going to a dealership with a car. ”
Johansen asks, “If you can’t fix it, do you really own it?” “
The FTC looked into the problem and released a report in May titled Nixing the Fix. Among other things, the report found that “the burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and low-income communities. Many small black-owned businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries. ‘maintenance, and the difficulties that small businesses face can small businesses owned by people of color. “
Consumer groups say a good first step for the agency would be to enforce laws already in place, including one that prohibits manufacturers from threatening to void a device’s warranty if it is brought to a independent repair shop.