Thanks to a new executive order from President Joe Biden, fixing your next broken phone could get a lot easier. While that’s good news for you, it’s excellent news for independent repair shops across the country.
Biden’s order signed July 9 asks the Federal Trade Commission to write new rules that would limit manufacturers from restricting the ability of consumers to repair their own products or use third-party repair shops. The measure arrives as dozens of states including Massachusetts and Nevada push forward with their own right-to-repair legislation. Some of the bills target specific industries such as medical devices, automobiles, and farming equipment.
Currently most independent repair shops rely on schematics, or a blueprint of how a device works, to perform repairs on things like electronics. It’s illegal to possess schematics since they’re considered proprietary information. Many repair shops depend on leaks to access gadget schematics.
The FTC may require manufacturers to make schematics available for free, or it may ask companies to merely offer the same tools they do their own repair services. In some cases, this could still put outside repair shops at a disadvantage. For example, Apple doesn’t even make its schematics available to Apple Store geniuses, its in-house tech support employees.
Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, a firm that offers DIY repair kits and guides for electronics, said that while the Biden executive order doesn’t change anything yet for the average independent repair shop, he’s “extremely optimistic” about where the FTC is headed.
Wiens, along with Apple’s Steve Wozniak and DIY repair YouTuber Louis Rossmann, have been influential voices in the right-to-repair movement in the United States. Wiens has testified before state legislatures and successfully pushed for major changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that make it easier to modify or hack your personal electronic devices.
Still, Wiens stressed that significant work remains with states and the FTC to ensure that independent repair shops no longer face hurdles from major manufacturers like John Deere, Apple, Samsung, and more. While some companies like Dell and Patagonia have moved to make their products easier to repair with third parties, the vast majority of manufacturers have actively lobbied against right-to-repair legislation. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group estimated that companies like Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, General Electric and others spent over $10 trillion since 2020 to counter legislation in states and the U.S. Congress.
While Biden’s executive order instructs the FTC to limit manufacturers from barring self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products, Wiens said that it’s unclear how far the FTC will go with its rulemaking. If, say, the FTC rules that manufacturers must make available the same information that it provides to its own shops, that would still leave a loophole for a company like Apple. That’s where state legislation could step in and require companies to offer more information, Wiens noted.
“It used to be that there was a TV repair shop in every neighborhood in the country. Those businesses have gone away. There used to be camera repair shops. Most of those businesses have gone away. Right now we have cell phone repair shops, and that’s very exciting. We need to make sure that they stick around,” said Wiens.