State of Repair

Hobbyists, lobbyists, and the growing battle for the “right to repair”

Could it be possible that some repair technicians have to contend for their own right to fix something? The thought seems far-fetched, but as manufacturers gain increasing monopolies over certain products, and technology is further integrated into machinery, it sheds light on obstacles facing independent shops, hobbyists, and those without representation.

In 2012, the Automotive Right to Repair Act was passed in Massachusetts, signaling a jump-start to the current movement. Automotive Right to Repair will begin in all 50 states in model year 2018. The current battlefield is consumer electronics, highlighted by legislation introduced in five states this week: Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Kansas.

“For example, Apple has never authorized an independent company to repair iPhones, even though hundreds of companies do so every day,” Jason Koebler of VICE’s Motherboard wrote January 23.

If these bills become law, independents could invoke the “Right to Repair” electronics, meaning manufacturers will have to sell replacement parts to independent repair shops and consumers and will also have to make their diagnostic and service manuals public.

Many businesses in the electromechanical aftermarket have security backing them in this regard, or don’t have issues with getting the parts they require. Industrial electric motor manufacturers have great relationships with thousands of shops, offering clarity, transparency, and access to their manuals. Other industries have union protection. But what about smaller, independent shops? If not certified, these folks might be caught in the crosshairs.

Most of the fighting for the little guy is currently done by The Repair Association, originally known as the Digital Right to Repair Coalition. Formed in 2013, the association represents everyone involved in repair of technology—from DIY hobbyists and independent repair technicians, to environmental organizations and the aftermarket. Target industries are medical device repair, agriculture & farming, automotive, consumer electronics, data center & cloud, but they see an increasing overlap.

Fair Repair legislation proposed by TRA aims to give owners and independent repair shops access to service information, schematics, and repair manuals; fair market access to diagnostics and tools; spare parts for a fair price; and critical updates. A cornerstone concern is also the continued integration of electronic functions to mechanical equipment: the infamous Internet of Things and the Cloud.

“I’m expecting that some products in [the electromechanical] industry now include digital controls, so legislation would help keep motor repair shops alive,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition told EA via e-mail. “For example, repair manuals used to be printed and shipped with equipment.  Now that manuals are hosted on the internet — manufacturers lock access behind passwords and payment portals,” she said.

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One Response to “State of Repair”

  1. You are not kidding this is getting to be a serious problem – I had a problem with a door switch for my home’s central alarm system and the alarm company refused to sell me the part, I Told them I was a EE who could design the system including the circuit boards, but they claimed for insurance reasons they could not sell me the part. Wanted their technician to come and replace the part.- Had to laugh, the same alarm company installed the system placed the end of line resistors at the terminal box in the alarm panel – go figure – found a replacement part on ebay and fixed for $4.00. Also had a problem with converting my hotwater heater over to Natural Gas- would not sell me the parts either. feel sorry for people who can’t fix things themselves and have to rely on others.

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