(AP) — Under changes being considered by federal regulators, Americans would be able to repair their broken cellphones
, computers, videogame consoles, and even tractors themselves, rather than relying on independent repair shops.
According to the regulators, the restrictions have steered consumers into the repair networks of manufacturers and sellers, or have led them to replace products before their useful lives have expired.
According to the FTC
and the Biden administration
, this raises concerns about anti-competitive behavior.
On Wednesday, the five
FTC commissioners unanimously adopted a policy statement
supporting the “right to repair
,” which pledges increased enforcement efforts and could pave the way for new regulations.
“These types of (repair) restrictions can significantly raise consumer costs, stifle innovation
, limit business
opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said.
The policy statement commits the agency to prosecuting repair restrictions that violate current antitrust
or consumer protection laws. For example, a 1975 law requires that if a product has a warranty — which is not required — the warranty must avoid using disclaimers in an unfair or deceptive manner, and it also prohibits tying a warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the warranty is tied to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the warranty is tied to
Unavailable parts, instruction manuals, and diagnostic software and tools, as well as product design restrictions and locks on software embedded in devices, have made many consumer products more difficult to repair and maintain, according to regulators and industry critics. Do-it-yourself repairs frequently necessitate specialized tools, difficult-to-obtain parts, and access to diagnostic software protected by manufacturers.
According to the regulators, repair restrictions disproportionately affect minority and low-income consumers. According to an FTC report to Congress
in May, many Black-owned small businesses make equipment repairs, and repair shops are frequently owned by entrepreneurs from low-income communities.
According to the report, repair restrictions for cellphones are especially severe for minority and low-income consumers, who frequently own cellphones but lack broadband access for computers at home
, increasing their reliance on the phones.
According to industry critics, the coronavirus pandemic
exacerbated the effects of repair restrictions for all consumers, as computers became essential for remote work
, home schooling children
, and video conferencing with relatives — while many large chain stores stopped offering on-site repairs.
“Manufacturers, be warned: It’s time to clean up your act and let people
fix their stuff,” Nathan Proctor, a director of the United States
Public Interest Research
Group’s right-to-repair campaign, said in a statement Wednesday. “With unanimous support from commissioners, there’s a new sheriff in town. The FTC is ready to act to stop many of the schemes used to undermine repair.”
Manufacturers, on the other hand, argue that repair restrictions are necessary to protect intellectual property
, protect consumers from injuries caused by improperly repaired products, and protect against cybersecurity
risks. Manufacturers argue that if independent repair shops perform faulty equipment repairs, they may face liability or damage to their reputation.
New right-to-repair laws and regulations “would cause innumerable harms and unintended consequences for consumers and manufacturers alike, including limiting consumer choice, impeding innovation, threatening consumers’ safety and wellbeing, (and) opening the door to counterfeits,” according to a prepared statement from the National Association of Manufacturers.
Around 25 states have passed legislation to loosen repair restrictions, and the European Union
is considering new right-to-repair regulations.
The repair directive was included in President Joe Biden
's sweeping executive order issued earlier this month, which targeted what he called anti-competitive practices in technology, healthcare, banking, and other key sectors of the economy
. The order contains 72 actions and recommendations that Biden said would lower prices for families
, raise wages for workers, and promote innovation and faster economic growth.
“Let me be clear: Capitalism without competition is not capitalism; it is exploitation,” Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House
The order calls for banning or limiting so-called noncompete agreements to help raise wages, allowing rule changes to allow hearing aids
to be sold over the counter at drugstores, and prohibiting internet companies from charging excessive early-termination fees. It also asks the Transportation Department to consider requiring airlines
to refund fees when baggage is delayed or in-flight service is unavailable.
The FTC is requesting that consumers report any possible warranty abuse
or other violations to www.reportfraud.ftc.gov.