The FTC has stood behind calls to lift the right to repair restrictions created by tech businesses. After years of suffering small businesses, the government is fighting to protect them. With this official order from the United States, we're close to achieving a more open repair process across numerous industries.
It’s a topic that comes and goes, but there are some governments and regulators across the world fighting back. Let’s look at why and how we should fight against manufacturers monopolising the repair process.
Why do we need the right to repair?
The right to repair is an important consumer right. It ensures consumers have access to affordable repair services regardless of their mobile phone brand. When a customer buys a phone, it is their property and at that point they should be able to repair it as they see fit. Increasingly, mobile phone manufacturers are making it harder for consumers to repair their phones without going through their specific process.
Most companies typically fall back on the argument of keeping its design and production process secret. To do this, manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung lock down repairs to an internal-only process. This harms repair businesses, the consumers, making product repairs difficult and pricing out a large group of customers.
Examples of why we need Right to Repair
Apple’s most recent iPhone 12 is notoriously difficult to repair. Some believe it’s through neglect, but it was likely designed this way by Apple. An iPhone that’s more difficult to repair has to be sent to Apple, which means the manufacturer can stipulate its own terms and costs. This is staunchly anti-right to repair and remove consumer options. Some of the more basic elements of the phone are easily repaired and replaced, but complex elements like the camera need to be sent to Apple.
Other manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei also have a poor track history on phone repairability. Phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the Mate 20 X 5G are notoriously difficult to repair with intricate screens and cases that break easily. There are countless examples of phones being difficult to repair like this, forcing consumers to seek first-party repairs or risk breaking their phones with a third-party repair service.
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There’s another reason why embracing the right to repair is a good idea. It’s better for the environment. Manufacturers being more open with phone documentation and designing phones with repairs in mind will lead to less wasted parts. Third-party repair businesses can use old parts and spares to repair phones, cutting down on waste and saving consumers money.
A UN report in 2019 estimated that around 50 million metric tonnes of electronic waste is produced every year. This number is likely only going to increase as tech becomes an even bigger part of our day-to-day lives. Right to repair massively reduces waste by opening up products to the public. Better access to information will lead to less technology being written off, as more people will learn how to repair products.
Third-party repair services also typically negate the carbon footprint associated with sending objects off for repair. Most businesses have specific repair centres, so if you live a certain distance away, chances are your mobile phone or electronic device is going to travel by land, air or sea to get there. The ability to repair phones and devices locally would completely cut this step out, massively reducing emissions.
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Limiting the right to repair is anti-consumer at its most basic level. When consumers purchase a product, they have certain rights and one of those rights is the ability to seek a repair or refund if a product breaks. By constricting the channels available, manufacturers are limiting consumers’ rights. Therefore, we should all care about the right to repair as a concept, and keep pushing manufacturers to make the repair process simple and accessible.
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