The Recorder – My Turn: Right to Fix a Common Sense Idea

“Either we get right to repair laws or companies like mine will disappear.”

Most of us have broken our phone screen at some point. Repairing these screens should be something that manufacturers make easy for their customers.

Last fall, after Apple launched its new iPhone 13, technicians discovered that the phone would disable the popular Face ID feature if someone not authorized by Apple repaired the screen. Worse, Apple refuses to sell replacement screens or make its repair software available to local independent stores. And that worries the stores.

Tyler Alderman has been repairing appliances in western Massachusetts for over two years now. Like most merchants, Apple won’t sell him spare parts or give him access to the software tools needed to calibrate FaceID after a repair.

“The number of co-workers and other shop owners I know personally who won’t do specific repairs because of bad experiences buying faulty parts is staggering,” Alderman said. “Additionally, the lack of access to repair prevents many families from having access to the internet and the world at large.”

After public backlash, Apple released a software update that overridden its Face ID lock in the event of a screen repair. But without legislation protecting the right to repair, there’s nothing stopping Apple from backtracking and remotely updating phones to lock in repairs again.

When manufacturers or their brand-approved stores are the only choice for repair, they can burden an arm and a leg, or push you to constantly upgrade to their latest model, whether or not your phone has much life left.

Make, use, mix and repeat. It’s a system that works great if you’re selling new…but it’s expensive for consumers and devastating for the planet. We’re going through electronic devices at record rates, and e-waste is the fastest growing part of the US municipal waste stream.

“I know of several classmates who had to use their own limited resources mid-semester to buy a brand new laptop simply because a little tool malfunctioned and a spare wasn’t available.” Says Chris Dryer, a local resident and repair enthusiast.

Not only do Massachusetts residents replace some 8,000 cellphones a day, but MASSPIRG calculated that if Bay Staters used their cellphones for one more year on average, it would have climate benefits equivalent to taking 13,300 cars off the road. Plus, we estimate that repairing instead of replacing our electronics would save the average Massachusetts family $330 a year, which is more than $850 million for all families in the state.

We can overturn this system by giving people what they need to fix what they already have. That’s the goal of Senate Right to Repair Bill 166, currently pending in Boston. The proposed reforms would force manufacturers to sell parts and tools and make service manuals available to prevent a monopoly on repairs.

But if we want to preserve the repair shops we now have on our main streets, we need to stop waiting and embrace the right to repair this year.

We have been debating the rules of the right to repair for many years. Proponents argue that these reforms would help local small businesses, reduce waste and reliance on manufacturing and the supply chain, and save consumers money.

Opponents, including many big tech makers, have argued that a monopoly on access to repairs benefits consumers because only “authorized” repairs are safe or of sufficient quality. Essentially, they argue that consumers cannot themselves choose who to trust with repairs.

For two years, experts from the Federal Trade Commission studied the issue and examined the arguments for and against the right to repair. They released a landmark report last May that found there was “little evidence” to support manufacturers’ justifications for restricting repairs, but repair monopolies were significantly harming consumers, small businesses and businesses. the environment.

“I love fixing things for my community and I know what I’m doing. Regularly, people come to me, obviously in distress, just after being informed by the “authorized” repairer that their device is beyond repair and that they need an upgrade. A lot of times I turn them back on – sometimes the non-repairable device just has lint in the charging port,” Alderman added. “But if lawmakers don’t do something, I won’t be able to hold the apples of the world under siege.” If that happens, when the big guys tell you the device is finished, there will be no second opinion.

At this point we have gone through all the arguments; a two-year FTC investigation is, frankly, overkill for a common-sense, bipartisan idea. If we want repair shops to bring our gadgets, we need lawmakers to act and advance digital right to repair law. If you agree, you should let your legislators know.

Ben Rowley has worked with MassPirg statewide on the Right to Repair campaign.