Right-to-repair for consumer electronics being pushed forward in the USA

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Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

A demand is taking place to make sure portable computers and similar equipment such as laptops that suffer a lot of damage is able to be repaired by independent technicians

Right to Repair bills introduced in five states | Engadget

Five States Are Considering Bills to Legalize the ‘Right to Repair’ Electronics | Motherboard

From the horse’s mouth

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Defend Your Right To Repair (Issue Page)

The Repair Association – representing independent repairers

Consumer Electronics (Issue Page)

My Comments

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

Even those smartphones that end up with cracked screens or are dropped in the swimming pool

An issue currently being raised in the United States Of America is the ability for us to repair our own consumer-electronics equipment or have it repaired by independent repair technicians. This is becoming more important with smartphones, tablets and laptops that often fall victim to accidental damage such as that familiar cracked screen. As well, the batteries in this portable equipment lose their performance over the years and an increasing number of this equipment is supplied with batteries that aren’t user-replaceable, which leads to this equipment being “disposable” once the batteries cease to hold their charge.

The manufacturers prefer us to have the equipment serviced by official outlets but this can be highly onerous both in cost and time without the equipment. It is something that is made worse if a manufacturer doesn’t implement an authorised-repairer network for some or all of their products or severely limits the size and scope of an authorised-repairer network.

On the other hand, independent repairers like the phone-repair kiosks in the shopping centres are able to offer value for money or perform simple repairs like replacing damaged screens or end-of-life batteries quickly but they find it hard to have access to official parts, tools and know-how to perform these jobs.  In some cases, it can lead to the equipment being fitted with “known-to-work” parts salvaged from other broken equipment or a grey-market full of generic parts being available, some of which may have a huge question mark over their quality or provenance. These generic parts have come about because the parts manufacturers have been fulfilling enough orders of them that they can sell them as a commodity.

What is currently happening is that the manufacturers and distributors are exploiting various intellectual-property-rights legislation to prevent the sharing of repair knowledge to third-party repairers. As well, they have been reducing the number of official repair facilities along with reducing the availability of original spare parts and tools thus making it more onerous financially and time-wise to keep your device in good repair. In some cases like Apple with its iOS devices, they could limit the scope of their authorised-repair program so that it is harder for anyone but a select few to repair a particular class of device.

The issue that is being raised is the ability for an independent repair workshop to obtain proper spare parts, tools and knowledge from the products’ manufacturers or distributors so they can perform repairs on customers’ equipment at a cost-effective price. Here, they don’t need to be turning away customers because they don’t know how to fix a particular piece of equipment. This also includes the ability for independent repairers to discover solutions to common faults and share this knowledge along with the ability for us to see our devices work in an optimum manner for a longer time, thus reducing the “e-waste” which can be destined to the landfills.

This call is also about legitimising the ability for independent technicians to modify equipment to suit newer needs. Examples of these procedures may include “upsizing” the storage in a device with fixed storage like a smartphone, PVR or games console to a higher capacity, modifying equipment so it is accessible to those with special needs or simply adding an officially-supplied “optional-function” module to existing equipment. As well, it also encompasses the ability to continually provide support to equipment that has been abandoned by the manufacturers.

A similar situation that has been happening in the motor-vehicle market is that as vehicles became equipped with highly-sophisticated computerised subsystems, it became harder for independent repairers to service newer vehicles. This typically ended up with motorists taking their vehicles to the official repair workshops that were part of motor vehicle dealerships to keep their vehicles in good order. But some recent activity in the USA has made sure that independent garages could continue to repair and service the newer vehicle fleet by requiring the vehicle builders there to share this knowledge with them.

What is happening now is that five US states (Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Massachusetts and New York) are pushing forward laws that allow repairers to buy the tools and documentation from manufacturers. A similar law had been pushed in Wyoming to extend the “right-to-repair” principle to farm machinery. This action follows on from the Massachusetts effort in 2013 to establish “right-to-repair” for motor vehicles, causing a de-facto federal approach by the US’s vehicle builders to share this knowledge with the independent vehicle-repair and roadside-assistance trade.

The issue of “right-to-repair” also relates to the implementation of standards-based or platform-based design for equipment along with competitive-trade and consumer-rights issue. In these cases, it could be about repairer availability whether based on locality or satisfying users’ needs; the ability to increase value for money when it comes to equipment maintenance or insurance coverage for equipment damage; along with the equipment being able to last longer and not end up as landfill.

Small businesses and community organisations are also in a position to benefit because their budget isn’t affected heavily by capital or operating expenses for the equipment they own.This is because they could seek repairs to broken-down equipment at a cost-effective price or have existing equipment overhauled more frequently so that it is highly available and helping them operate. They can also purchase a high-grade domestic-rated unit like, for example, a premium domestic “bean-to-cup” superautomatic espresso machine to be used as part of a coffee stall, without being refused repairs or servicing or having to pay a higher price because it is used in a “commercial” setting.

Nowadays, what needs to happen is that jurisdictions legislate or enforce “right-to-repair” laws that allow independent technicians access to parts and knowledge so they can keep consumer equipment lasting longer.

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