If you’re reading this, you’re either on your phone, your tablet, or your PC. So, if any of them broke, which one of them can you afford to get to device and computer repair services, or can you fix them yourself? Think about the cost of replacing these devices, and wonder what you’d do if they were only slightly cheaper than an entirely new model.
These are the key ideas behind the right to repair movement, which, as the name implies, advocates for the rights of the customers to fix the electronic devices that they own. Currently, thanks to manufacturer repair monopolies, getting something fixed will most likely have to be done via the manufacturer or via an authorized agent, which isn’t cheap.
In the US, about 20 states have considered right-to-repair legislation in order to protect the ability of consumers to fix their stuff, either with parts, software, or via third-party businesses like computer repair services that keep repairs cheap and accessible. These bills have been getting support across the country, even from the 2020 US Presidential candidates, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, as they aim to work to break the grip that companies have on repairs, allowing customers to avoid the unnecessarily expensive works, and instead decide on who’ll fix their stuff, be it a cheaper repair shop, a friend with the necessary knowledge, or even themselves.
Part of the problem is that, in order to implement those repairs, service information, spare parts, specialized tools, as well as the repair software needed to ensure that the process is both effective and safe, are needed.
Repair Association Executive Director Gay Gordon-Byrne says this is where things get crazy, as the current cost of repairs are inflated by manufacturers in order to make profit, with parts that cost a few dollars being made to cost several hundred. There’s no competition, he says, it’s a monopoly, and companies are free to adjust prices in order to control consumer behavior. A lack of competition, he says, not only hurts the consumers, but also the industry at large.
Another key idea behind the right to repair movement is the waste generated. According to a report from the United Nations University from 2017, the production of e-waste went up to 45 million metric tonnes in 2016, which amounts to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers in materials.
iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens says that, even without the environmental problems, technological development hinges on making sure that people have control of their products.