Last year, in our blog, we published an article “Bought is yours: home appliance vendors in the EU were obliged to supply spare parts for repairs and help services.” It said that the EU forced manufacturers from 2021 to start supplying spare parts for their devices within 10 years. These rules are relevant for large household appliances: washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and lighting fixtures. In addition, manufacturers were also obliged to design household appliances in such a way that they could be repaired without specialized tools from the vendor.
As far as can be judged, the new legislation has started to work. But only with regard to large household appliances. In the realm of electronics, smartphones, laptops, the right to repair is still really out there somewhere. Corporations actively oppose attempts by consumers and craftsmen to gain the right to repair their devices. In the United States, things are not easy: here one state after another refuses the bill on the right to repair.
What’s the problem?
Electronics manufacturers, including Google (no one calls the company a “corporation of good” anymore), Apple and other manufacturers, are trying to control the service and repair industry. Companies understand that this is a gold mine for them – not only do they sell devices, they also continue to receive money after the sale.
So, the usual replacement of a cracked iPhone glass in the brand center costs $ 329, battery – about $ 69… Prices are also high for most of the company’s other services and repairs. In 2016, journalists even managed to obtain documentary evidence that Apple is paying officials who oppose the “right to repair.” Many other companies are doing similar things, but Apple is the most striking example.
There are other examples, no less striking. For example, Apple in the world of tractors is John Deere. About her more than once wrote on Habré, but things are still there. More recently, the company tried to force a farmer to pay, whose simple sensor was broken. The farmer cannot do anything himself – service is required. As it turned out, it costs a lot: the company requested as much as $ 5000… And without replacement, the farmer could not work normally – the tractor turned off for no apparent reason, and in a random way. At the same time, the local mechanic knew what to do, and would take several times less for repairs.
But it looks like John Deer has been found – at least in Nebraska. A new bill is being considered here that would oblige the company to provide repair tools and software to independent companies.
But with Apple, Google and others, everything is much worse.
No compromises. Companies do not want to give the right to repair
There is an electronics repair shop in New York State owned by Justin Millman. At first, renovation was his hobby, then his work. Every month he and his colleagues repair thousands of units of tablets, laptops, Chromebooks. With the onset of the pandemic, the number of devices increased, respectively, and the number of repair requests also increased.
Unfortunately, not all devices Millman and his colleagues can repair – and not because the task is too difficult or even unsolvable. The problem is the lack of spare parts and circuits from vendors, without which some devices really cannot be repaired. Diagrams are generally a headache for repair shops, since very few brands are willing to share documentation. Most provide it only to their own repair services.
As a result, funny situations happen that do not please the owners. For example, Millman faced with a typical problem for one of the Chromebook models – they do not connect to the Internet due to a defective Wi-Fi module. These Chromebooks are distributed to students and pupils from dozens of educational institutions in the vicinity of Millman’s workshop. He counted at least 25 organizations that have filed requests to repair Chromebooks with this defect.
The modules in question are not uncommon and can be replaced without any problems. But when it comes to official repairs, then in the USA you need to fulfill the requirements of vendors, otherwise you can get major problems. Millman says Google requires a specific version of the Wi-Fi module to be installed, not a compatible model. And here’s the problem: Millman is not included in the list of authorized service providers for repairing Google gadgets, that is, he cannot legally obtain the necessary spare parts.
He has to start every morning by searching the Internet for working boards along with modules. That is, in order to restore the functionality of the Chromebook, you have to change the entire board along with the module. Sounds absurd, but this is what Millman has to deal with.
And companies don’t compromise – they just want the right to renovate never to become a reality.
Powerful lobby and tons of money
cash interests of such giants as Microsoft, Google, Apple and other companies, not to mention smaller ones. For years, they have prohibited regular users and third-party service centers from legally doing repairs.
It is clear that consumers are fighting for their rights by creating their own associations. They really work, for example iFixit is one of the largest communities for the right to renovate. Consumers are asking legislators to change legislation. In the United States, in different states, a bill for the right to repair was sent out. 27 states reviewed the document. More than half rejected it.
And this despite the fact that in the United States alone, manufacturers use 23.7 million tons of resources to produce devices. It is estimated that if users are able to use their phones for a year longer than the companies calculated, the level of pollutant emissions can be reduced to the equivalent of the mass of exhaust gases emitted by 636,000 vehicles per year.
But companies are protecting their interests. TechNet, the largest lobbying group for vendors such as Google and Apple, is trying to convince lawmakers that providing schematics, hardware and software for repairs to third-party workshops poses a threat to the information security of millions of people. Allegedly, the data of ordinary users will fall en masse into unwanted hands.
And even the successes of free repair advocates are ultimately offset by the company’s influence. So, Apple, which seems to have given way, still prohibits complex service work. The existing program prohibits any repairs that are more difficult than replacing major components (display, battery, motherboard). In addition, the terms of the program do not allow stores to store parts in the warehouse, so the supply of spare parts has to wait for weeks. Well, the cherry on top – original Apple parts and tools cost a lot of money, which increases the cost of repairs for customers of third-party service centers, and warranty service will remain the prerogative of the company and certified service centers.
Everything is lost?
No, yet right to renovate advocates are doing their best. Lawyers advocating the ability to repair devices, household appliances and vehicles with their own hands are successfully operating in many countries. In the course of their work, lawyers use the testimony of business owners such as Millman.
In early May, under pressure from supporters of the repair right, the FTC released a report to Congress that the current consumer electronics repair system is hurting competition and economic development in low-income regions. The Commission, in particular, pointed to the aggravation of the consequences of the current right to repair policy – for example, there are not enough laptops in schools.
TechNet representatives have already stated that the evidence for the right to repair is very weak and that they are actively studying the agency’s findings.
Nevertheless, the struggle between supporters and opponents of the right to renovation is still ongoing. Who will win in the end is unclear, but the very right to repair, at least electronics, is still somewhere out there.