Minnesota: Seize this chance to lead on right to repair
Big Tech is desperate to keep the status quo, even if it means consumers have a difficult time getting simple, common-sense repairs
Photo illustration by Getty Images.
A moment ago, your phone was safe in your hand (okay, maybe it was balanced a little precariously on a counter’s edge — we’ve all been there). Now, you’re staring apprehensively at where it lies face down on the ground, steeling yourself to flip it over and see whether or not the dreaded — and expensive — spiderweb of a cracked screen has appeared. You do a mental tally of your bank account and your schedule for the week, take a deep breath, and hope for the best.
The reality is, the average American drops their phone on the ground more than every other day. And when your smartphone experiences the inevitable crack in the screen or a more serious issue, you often have no choice but to have the manufacturer repair the device at an expensive cost — which can be several hundred dollars — or ultimately buy a new one.
The good news for Minnesotans is that your lawmakers are taking action to expand your rights when it comes to fixing your devices. In April, both houses of the Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly passed groundbreaking “right to repair” language as part of a larger bill (SF2744). It would provide new repair options for Minnesotans.
This language in the bill is known as the Digital Fair Repair Act. It would make sure that consumers have the choice to fix their own products with electronic parts, or have them fixed by an independent repair servicer that they choose.
Although the larger bill has passed both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature, there are still a few critical obstacles that it needs to overcome before it becomes law, including obtaining the governor’s signature.
This is a critical period for the bill. Big Tech lobbyists are likely to intervene and attempt to water down the Digital Fair Repair Act. They have succeeded in stopping dozens of bills like this one in other states.
Giant tech companies are desperate to keep the status quo, even if it means consumers have an extremely difficult time getting even simple, common-sense repairs — like replacing a cracked screen or swapping out a smartphone battery. Often, personal devices are intentionally designed in ways that don’t last and prevent easy repair. Manufacturers also frequently restrict access to the tools and replacement parts needed to fix their products — and some even use digital locks to block repairs by anyone except their hand-picked servicers.
Tactics like these force consumers to rely on the manufacturer (or the manufacturer’s hand-picked providers) to fix the products on the manufacturer’s terms, and at the manufacturer’s price. This costs consumers time, money and the independence of their own basic ownership rights.
Without choice and competition, manufacturers are free to charge whatever astronomical rates they want or even, ultimately, to refuse to repair the product — leaving consumers with no choice but to throw it away and buy a new one. A 2021 Federal Trade Commission report also noted that “the burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities.”
To put it plainly: The current system prioritizes corporate profits, not consumers.
And it’s clear people want these rights protected. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, a strong majority of Americans expressed support for policies that would help ensure consumers have the ability to repair their own products or to have them repaired by the servicer of their choice. This new law would do just that — protect your basic rights of ownership for electronic products, so you can fix them yourself or take them to the local repair shop you trust most.
The right to repair benefits both consumer wallets and the environment. Extending new repair options to consumers will help cut down on e-waste by allowing people to repair their devices rather than tossing them out. Extending the lifespan of personal electronics ultimately reduces how often we need to replace electronics. This keeps preventable waste out of landfills, and reduces demand on electronic supply chains that continue to struggle with shortages.
Across the country, tech giants like Apple, Amazon and Google have deployed their teams of lobbyists to block any legislation that limits their control over your damaged devices. New York passed a landmark law in December that focuses on products like phones and laptops. Minnesota now has an opportunity to pass an even stronger law that helps consumers by providing the right to repair those devices, as well as other items, like smart home appliances.
In a time of intense political polarization, let’s not let a handful of tech giants squash a common-sense bill that will promote greater competition, and protect consumers, small businesses and the environment.
The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz should resist efforts by tech lobbyists to weaken the bill and sign the strongest possible version into law — no repairs needed.
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