BOSTON – Manufacturers of electronic gadgets, from smartphones to vacuum cleaners, keep repair plans secret and limit access to spare parts, advocates say, increasing costs for consumers and forcing many small repair shops to close their doors.
Electronics repair companies and consumer groups are pressuring lawmakers to step in, forcing manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Apple to openly sell parts and provide diagnostic manuals to independent repair shops .
A proposal that was submitted to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Monday would require manufacturers of electronic devices manufactured after December 31, 2012 to share repair information, tools and procedures. parts with consumers and independent repair shops.
Consumer advocates say the lack of repair data from electronics manufacturers ultimately increases costs to consumers by not allowing for a more open repair market.
“Manufacturers are aggressively blocking repairs to force us to go back or buy the most recent version,” Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, told the panel in support of the measure.
“The result is skyrocketing repair costs and a huge amount of waste,” added Domenitz.
The average American family gets rid of 176 pounds of toxic electronic waste each year, according to MassPIRG. The group says lifting repair restrictions will reduce the flow of e-waste to landfills and save consumers money.
Manufacturers have resisted repair right bills, arguing that repair control allows their products to operate safely. They also report copyright laws that allow them to protect their intellectual property, including from potential pirates.
Chris Gilrein, executive director of TechNet for the Northeast region, which advocates for tech companies, said requiring companies to provide this information would hurt the state’s thriving high-tech industry. and small start-ups.
“For a lot of these companies, the only value they have is their intellectual property,” Gilrein said.
He said forcing them to hand over plans or blueprints to “anyone who asks” would hurt their competitiveness and their ability to attract potential investors.
Other opponents of the proposal have raised concerns about the safety of consumers when handing over electronic schematics and diagnostic data for large machines that could potentially cause injury and death among those who are not properly trained. .
Massachusetts, with its strict consumer protection laws, is seen as a testing ground for right to redress initiatives.
In 2012, the overwhelming majority of voters in the state passed a ballot question that requires automakers to provide software and diagnostic information to independent repair shops and vehicle owners.
Voters in the 2020 election agreed to an update to the so-called “Right to Repair” law, expanding the rules to allow independent stores to access data collected by vehicle computers. The referendum was adopted with 75% of the votes cast.
Yet proposals that would lift electronic repair restrictions – or pose the question to voters – languished in Beacon Hill committees.
In Congress, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require manufacturers of digital electronic equipment “to make certain documentation, diagnostic and repair information available to independent repairers.”
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules on repairing electronic devices and to examine whether the limits imposed by manufacturers constitute anti-competitive behavior.
In July, the FTC stepped up its scrutiny after issuing a report claiming that some manufacturers use “anti-competitive practices” to limit the ability of consumers and independent repair shops to repair and maintain products.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]