The passage of the Right to Repair bill could result in a national policy shift
By: Jon Keegan
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
New York’s passage of the nation’s first consumer electronics “right-to-repair” law represents a rare success for consumer groups and advocates who have fought a deep-pocketed industry-wide lobbying effort for years. The “Digital Fair Repair Act” easily passed on June 3 with a 147–2 vote in the New York State Assembly after passing the Senate two days earlier, and now awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.
The bill mandates that for most consumer electronics sold in New York State, manufacturers must offer free technical and repair documentation, free software for diagnostics, and replacement parts and repair tools at a reasonable cost for consumers and repair shops.
Finally, consumers should have a broader range of repair options for phones, tablets, and computers.
“This bill is very strong. It provides information, parts, and tools—everything you need for a robust repair economy,” wrote repair website iFixit’s CEO and right-to-repair advocate Kyle Wiens in an email to The Markup.
Consumer advocates have been pressuring electronics manufacturers for years to allow for convenient, cheap repairs. As mobile devices have grown more complex, they have become harder to disassemble—often requiring expensive proprietary tools—and original parts are often not available to smaller repair shops. The result is that manufacturers have had a de facto monopoly on repair service and parts.
Jessa Jones, the owner of iPadRehab, an independent electronics repair shop in Honeoye, N.Y., said, “The win is that we will be able to order and replace some common parts that are serialized and paired to the device function,” referring to manufacturers’ prohibitive software restrictions that ensure only authorized parts are used.
Notably, the bill, which goes into effect one year from the date of the governor’s signature, excludes farm equipment such as tractors, medical devices, appliances, and motor vehicles. Each of these categories has been the subject of some of the earliest and loudest calls for new laws, as well as a massive lobbying effort by industry groups and manufacturers to prevent them.
Getting Ahead of the Law
Despite industry concerns, device makers are rolling out self-service repair programs ahead of expected legislation. “iFixit has launched parts partnerships with Motorola, Google, Samsung, Valve, amongst others. The most prepared companies were ready for this to happen,” said iFixit’s Wiens.
Apple recently announced its much-anticipated self-service program, offering free technical documentation and specialized tools and replacement parts for sale. The actual process of repair, however, may be intimidating for all but the most fearless DIY hobbyists and repair professionals: Apple’s self-service iPhone repair program involves shipping 75 pounds of equipment worth $1,200 that you can rent for a week for $49.
While Jones supports the New York law, she noted that it has its limits. She described a common failure where a single drop of water can disable a screen element. Before this law, Jones said, she could not perform this repair. “With right to repair, we should be able to replace this part and pair the device to the new part. The downside—this inexpensive part will require replacing the entire screen,” which she says costs $279. “Better than nothing, but not a huge win,” said Jones.
Even though the New York law is narrowly focused, it represents a victory for consumer advocates who have battled the industry on right to repair for years.
Opponents maintain that repair legislation would lead to dangerous failures of improperly repaired products and that states with right-to-repair laws could become havens for hackers.
According to public lobbying disclosures, some of the most powerful technology companies lobbied New York lawmakers on this bill, including Apple, Tesla, and IBM, and influential industry groups CTA, TechNet, and CTIA.
For example, Chris Gilrein, TechNet’s executive director for the Northeast, warned of safety and privacy risks to consumers. In a statement to The Markup, Gilrein said the bill “… would result in serious harm to consumers’ privacy and safety by providing sensitive security information and equipment to anyone who wants it, regardless of whether they’ve been trained, certified, or vetted.”
In 2018, a group of prominent engineers and cybersecurity experts formed Securerepairs, an organization to rebut the industry’s most alarming predictions, which they say are largely “scaremongering and hypotheticals” meant to stifle meaningful debate.
For now, the New York law will remain as is. The legislation’s prime sponsor, state senator Neil Breslin, said in an email that he has no plans to introduce new right-to-repair laws to address the excluded categories of products. “They were excluded because of broader public safety concerns,” he wrote.
Apple, Tesla, IBM, CTIA, and CTA did not respond to our request for comment.
A Law with National Implications
Though the New York law applies only to consumer electronics sold in the state, there are national implications for the tech industry now that this first bill has passed.
Massachusetts does have a right-to-repair law on the books, but the state’s 2013 law is narrowly focused on automobiles and was updated in 2020 to include diagnostic data (though a pending lawsuit from car makers has paused enforcement).
Faced with the complex and expensive restrictions of complying with different rules from state to state, all of the major car manufacturers signed on to a memorandum of understanding voluntarily adopting the requirements of the Massachusetts law nationwide.
The same thing could happen with New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act.
“I believe that OEMs will want to comply rather than fight as there are 40 other states which have begun their own bills,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of The Repair Association, in an email to The Markup.
More Repairs, Lower Costs, Less Waste
As tech companies start complying with the new rules, “[c]onsumers will find that local cell phone, computer repair and TV repair will be able to do more repairs for more brands than previously,” said Gordon-Byrne.
And many of those repairs are likely to cost less.
Gordon-Byrne said she thinks the automotive repair industry could act as a guide. “In the auto world consumers expect roughly 30% savings from a local mechanic—and I think the same will apply.”
New York’s law “will drive competition, lower repair prices and parts prices for the average consumer, and prolong the lives of New Yorkers’ devices. It’s expected to save every New York family up to $330 per year. The average American family spends $1,400+ on household electronics every year already,” said Alexander Flood, spokesperson for New York assembly member Patricia Fahy, the bill’s sponsor in the assembly, in an emailed response to The Markup.
In addition to increasing competition, the legislation should benefit the environment. “This is good for both consumers and small businesses alike, not to mention the significant reduction in electronic waste which is so incredibly harmful to our environment,” said Senator Breslin.
This article was originally published on The Markup and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.