Ever wonder why you can’t get your cell phone or tablet fixed easily without shipping it back to the manufacturer? Or why some other costly electronics you bought can’t be repaired at all and have to be replaced when they break? It’s because manufacturers build them that way intentionally.
Have you ever noticed those labels on the back of products saying that the warranty is void if you attempt to open or repair them? They are not valid in the U.S., but companies still use them.
Products are increasingly designed to limit or prohibit repairs, allowing companies to reap even greater benefits from eager consumers looking for the latest gadgets and newest technology. Companies who build these products say that closed systems limit security risks by preventing someone from accessing a consumer’s personal information. They point to proprietary concerns and intellectual property as well.
They also say that products that can’t be repaired and must be replaced increase profitability, which is good for companies and jobs. That profitability can be invested in product enhancements and technology improvements as new designs increase the likelihood of a captive audience demanding more and driving innovation.
Others will argue that demands for efficiency limit the ability to design products for repairability to give consumers what they want. And finally, manufacturers will also say that limited or no repairability enhances user safety. It prevents someone from inadvertently doing damage to a product.
But it wasn’t always this way.
In the past, most products could be repaired by a local shop or by the product’s owner. It wasn’t difficult to get parts or find the tools needed to do the work. Now it is more the norm for products, or at least significant components, to be non-repairable. Where repairs can be made, authorization may be limited to specific dealers or manufacturers. In other cases, companies may use proprietary tools that hinder access to a product’s components.
Tight controls on repairs have led to monopolistic practices by some companies, forcing consumers to pay high prices for repairs or purchase new products.
HB 1810, promoting the fair servicing and repair of digital electronics, seeks to create more access to appropriate and affordable repairs in Washington. The bill would make information and tools needed to make repairs more easily available, require manufacturers to provide them to independent repair shops, and even provide them to product owners on fair and reasonable terms.
There are obvious environmental benefits to repairable products by creating less product waste and decreasing the need for new ones. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by repairing them locally and supporting local jobs. Product lifespans will be increased, saving consumers money and expanding access to technology to underserved communities.
The right to repair is a movement sweeping the nation. Eighteen states are actively considering bills to expand repair access for several products, including agriculture, appliance, automotive, electronics, etc.
WSAC supports HB 1810. It is currently before the House of Representatives and is waiting to be placed on a run calendar.