Right-to-repair proponents are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement new regulations for electronics manufacturers that would make it easier for consumers to repair their own devices. On Tuesday, the repair guide site iFixit and the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) submitted a petition to the FTC with the goal of initiating a new rulemaking process for the right to repair. Although California, Minnesota, and New York have recently passed state-level right-to-repair laws, efforts to enact nationwide reforms have stalled in Congress. The proposed repair reforms in the petition go well beyond what states have enacted so far.
The Biden administration’s FTC supports the right to repair, but proponents argue that more aggressive action is needed to keep pace with the tech industry. Elizabeth Chamberlain, iFixit’s sustainability director, explained in a blog post that “The FTC can only take action on something if they’ve got relevant rules in place. A lot of the things that manufacturers are doing to block repair are new enough that the FTC never ruled against those things before—like using proprietary screws and parts pairing software blocks to make repair more difficult.”
One example of a practice targeted by the petition is the “parts pairing loophole,” which involves digitally linking a device’s individual parts to the device itself. This means that unpaired parts are inoperable. Apple, in particular, has been singled out for this practice, as consumers are required to purchase a new part from the company and pair it to the device, or the device will have limited functionality or not work at all. Critics of parts pairing argue that it prevents users from buying third-party and aftermarket parts and forces consumers to buy parts exclusively from the original manufacturer.
In addition to addressing parts pairing, iFixit and PIRG are calling for rules that require companies to make a product’s components easily replaceable throughout its lifespan. They also want to ensure that parts that easily break, such as screens, are readily available for repair. Furthermore, the groups are asking for rules that allow consumers to take products to a repair shop of their choice or do DIY repair. They are advocating for regulations that would require discontinued products to retain their key functions and prohibit repair shops from providing personally identifiable customer information to manufacturers. Lastly, repair advocates are urging the FTC to develop a repairability scoring system, similar to the one used in France and in development by other countries.
It is important to note that the FTC’s rulemaking process is known to take a considerable amount of time, and the agency is required to solicit input from the public and other stakeholders. Additionally, the FTC still needs to decide whether to take up the petition itself. Therefore, while the right-to-repair movement continues to gain traction, it appears that it will still face a lengthy process.
The right-to-repair movement is driven by a desire to provide consumers with more agency over their electronic devices and reduce electronic waste by promoting repairability and reusability. By pushing for more accessible repair options and regulations that hold manufacturers accountable for creating repair-friendly products, proponents hope to empower consumers and create a more sustainable electronics industry.