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The Growing Right To Repair Movement

Above Photo: Nathan Proctor. USPIRG.

Earlier this month, a group of North Dakota farmers filed a class action lawsuit claiming that John Deere is illegally monopolizing agricultural equipment repair.

The lawsuit alleges that Deere’s implementation of computerized engine control units and refusal to provide farmers and independent mechanics with needed software repair tools have forced farmers to pay millions more for service than they would have in a competitive market.

A report from the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) titled Deere in the Headlights demonstrated how these software tools are necessary to fix modern tractors.

The lawsuit against Deere reflects a burgeoning Right to Repair movement.

“You buy stuff. It breaks or doesn’t work right,” US PIRG says on its Right to Repair page. “You could throw it away and buy new stuff, but you’d rather repair it. But then you find out you can’t do it yourself, you can’t even bring it to a third party repair shop. You have to bring it back to the original company, which can charge an arm and a leg because there’s no competition – and sometimes they just won’t fix it. And you decide to throw the thing away.”

“It means more cost to consumers, and also means more waste. Americans dispose of 416,000 cell phones per day, and only 15 to 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled.”

“We imagine a different kind of system, where instead of throwing things out, we reuse, salvage and rebuild. But that means taking on the big companies who would push us into buying more and throwing more away. The goal of our Right to Repair campaign is to give every consumer and small business access to the parts, tools and service information they need to repair products so we can keep things in use and reduce waste.”

Nathan Proctor is with the USPIRG Right to Repair project.

On the USPIRG Right to Repair website, there is a section called — Junked by Design. And one of the articles is titled – You Are Not Crazy. Your Appliances Were Built to Fail. Are there some appliance companies better than others? Or are they uniformly junked by design?

“There is no rhyme or reason as to what is fixable and what is not,” Proctor told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week.  “You can get a basic low cost item that is eminently fixable and lasts forever. And then you can buy the top of the line $8,000 stainless refrigerator and it has some junky electronics in it that just stop working after two years. Consumers have no way of knowing any of this stuff. It’s a total minefield.”

“The way these items are manufactured is so different than when these products lasted a long time. Companies don’t have their own manufacturing facilities. They are accumulating components from these factory cities. They are just buying parts and assembling them. They don’t take the same level of care in making sure the products are going to be durable.They are just scrabbling them together. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.”

“In France, they have repairability scores they are starting to put on products. It drills down into a number of factors including documentation, parts, parts pricing, parts availability, ease of dissasembly. You can get some information about what it would be like to fix that product. But here, it’s just impossible to know.”

“I was talking with someone from Consumer Reports and they had their top vacuum cleaner from a couple of years ago. And they have had to go back and change the score for that vacuum cleaner because it turns out it has a big lithium ion battery in it and there is no way to get the battery out of the vacuum cleaner. So there is no way to replace it.”

“A battery is like a printer cartridge. It wears out.”

“Look at the Apple Airpod. Those are a $250 pair of headphones. But there is a tiny battery in them. The battery might last two years, maybe a little less. They are completely sealed in the Airpod. You can’t take them out.”

There is another group called The Repair Association. Who are they?

“Also known as repair.org. It is a coalition group. They are incorporated as a trade association. They represent repair, refurbishing and reverse logistics companies. There are also a whole host of nonprofits part of their coalition. They advocate for the right to repair. It’s run by Gay Gordon-Byrne. She’s in upstate New York. They have been around since 2014. USPIRG is part of their coalition. We work closely with them.”

What does the coalition want?

“We want more stuff to be fixed and to be fixable. Our core model legislation requires the manufacturers to provide whatever repair diagnosis material that they have for their own authorized service providers — that they make that available on fair and reasonable terms to others.”

“If you are Apple and you have manuals and diagnostic software, you have a spare parts stream and you make it available to your select authorized facilities, you need to open that up so that owners and independent shops can get what they need to fix things.”

To fix your car, you can go to any car repair shop. But you can’t go anywhere to fix your Apple product?

“Apple restricts access to its parts. They lock parts using proprietary software. If you install a battery in an Apple product but you don’t do it using their proprietary software, the phone will know that you have installed a battery outside of Apple’s control and it will start kicking up warning messages for you. Their latest phone when it came out, if you replaced the screen, it disabled face ID.”

We came across one article titled – There is One Area Microsoft is Beating Apple – Right to Repair. Are some companies better than others when it comes to the right to repair?

“That is definitely the case. For phones, Apple has overwhelming market share. The iPhone is the most profitable product humanity has ever seen. And they are very restrictive. With John Deere, with their top end farm equipment, they have a majority of market share, especially the larger equipment. And they are very restrictive.”

“Laptops that primarily run Windows tend to be way more serviceable and open. It’s probably because of the antitrust actions taken back in the 1990s to protect the computer ecosystem – to stop Microsoft from exercising too much control. I’m talking to you on a Dell computer right now. If you look at our model legislation, I’m pretty sure Dell makes almost all of that available. So yes, some companies agree with the idea that people should have the materials and manuals, whatever tools exist to try and fix things. But they are also competing in a marketplace where there is an advantage to restricting repair.”

“You can drive up the price of your own service. You can price gouge and repair. And second, you can force people to upgrade on your own schedule. You can say – we no longer service that model.”

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