Biden issues decree on right to redress

Lobbyists and trade groups at large tech companies and equipment manufacturers have long argued that giving consumers better access to the tools needed to repair products, whether it’s a smartphone or a device. a car, poses a safety risk. The debate has become particularly heated as more products are connected to the internet, adding a software element to repairs that in the past could simply require exchanging parts.

Links to reports in the White House fact sheet that support its claims of impeded competition specifically point to issues with cell phone repair, but the wording of the order itself urges the FTC to expand the right of repair by restricting “technology and other” businesses from discouraging DIY. Such language indicates that the FTC’s regulatory target will be much larger than the device in your pocket.

In an emailed response to the executive order, a John Deere spokesperson said the company “is at the forefront of our industry in providing repair tools, replacement parts, information guides, training videos and manuals needed to work on our machines “. But the spokesperson also said that although less than 2% of tractor repairs require a software update, the company still does not support the right to modify the built-in software “due to the risks associated with the operation. safe from the equipment “.

Screw turn

Proctor, of the US PIRG, notes that it may still be some time before the FTC begins enforcing new remedies laws, saying the rule-making process is “not always fast”. As an example, he cites the FTC’s finalization of a rule regarding “made in USA” labels that are falsely applied to products not made in the United States. (Congress first enacted legislation regarding “made in the United States” claims in 1994, but for years there was a bipartisan consensus that this type of fraud should not be subject to harsh penalties. Just last week, the The FTC codified the rules in such a way that offenders would be penalized.)

“The right to redress is even more complex than this case, and if this is just a guideline on rule making, it could trigger another long process,” says Proctor. “Nonetheless, I hope it’s a mechanism that gets us where we need to go a little faster.”

IFixit’s Sheehan is more optimistic that the FTC could move quickly around the right to redress, in part because the agency recently introduced a series of changes designed to streamline rulemaking procedures – and in part because the order comes directly from the White House. “Obviously, we want the agency to act quickly on this, and pressure from the Biden administration is making that more possible,” Sheehan said.

An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment directly on the matter, instead pointing to the White House statement and the report the commission previously released in May.

In that report, the FTC concluded that products have in fact become more difficult to repair and maintain, and that “repair restrictions have … directed consumers to manufacturers’ repair networks to replace products before their life expires. useful life ”. The FTC also noted that restitution restrictions may also “place a greater financial burden on communities of color and low-income Americans.”

But the FTC also warned in the May report that the right to redress is a complicated issue and that expanding consumer redress options, whether through industry initiatives or through legislation. , “raises many issues which will merit consideration.”

Ultimately, the fight for the right to redress is likely to continue at the state level, and advocates plan to continue lobbying Congress for changes as well.

“I think, depending on the scope of the FTC rules, this may not replace what Congress can do and what states can do,” Sheehan said. As much as 25 states have considered right to redress legislation this year, but that, of course, does not mean that bills in those states will be enacted. A few states have what Sheehan calls “remedies laws,” including California, Rhode Island, and Indiana. Currently, Massachusetts is the only state with a formal Right to Repair Auto Act, which won the vote by a large majority in 2012 and again in 2020, despite vocal opposition of a coalition of major car manufacturers.

“Whatever rule the FTC adopts, it will be up to the FTC to enforce it,” said Sheehan, “while state law can be enforced by state attorneys general and they sometimes have more than leeway or resources to focus on those things the FTC could in the context of all of its many other priorities.

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