Empowering Consumers Through the Right to Repair
On October 24, 2023, the White House took a significant step by convening a roundtable discussion, bringing together federal and state officials, small business owners, and private sector leaders to shed light on the crucial concept of the “right to repair.”
At its core, the right to repair is a fundamental principle that grants individuals the autonomy to fix their possessions when they break, either on their own or by taking them to independent repair shops.
This approach provides consumers with more options for repairing their devices, reduces costs, simplifies the repair process, and fosters healthy competition—a central component of President Biden’s economic strategy, known as Bidenomics.
A Presidential Commitment
Lael Brainard, Director of the National Economic Council, emphasized the significance of the right to repair in President Biden’s consumer-centric agenda. She highlighted the importance of leveling the playing field for small independent repair businesses. The roundtable participants engaged in insightful discussions regarding the progress made since President Biden endorsed the right to repair through his Executive Order on Promoting Competition.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan elucidated the advantages of competition in repair markets, underlining how it drives down costs and expands opportunities for small businesses. She also highlighted the FTC’s bipartisan and unanimous enforcement policy, citing successful cases that have simplified the repair of a wide array of products, from grills to motorcycles.
Extending Product Lifecycle
Janet McCabe, Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), delved into how the right to repair extends the lifecycle of products. This not only reduces waste but also plays a pivotal role in combating climate change. She expounded on the EPA’s efforts to promote the repairability of farm equipment, underscoring the environmental benefits of this approach.
The roundtable also featured a bipartisan group of state officials who recounted legislative accomplishments from the past year. These successes included the passage of right-to-repair legislation in California, Colorado, Minnesota, and New York.
A farmer from Colorado and an independent repair shop owner from Minnesota shared how these legislative victories will lead to cost savings for consumers and farmers while simultaneously creating new opportunities for small businesses.
Industry Support for Right to Repair
Several businesses expressed their support for the new legislation during the roundtable. Apple, in particular, called for robust national right-to-repair legislation and announced its commitment to honoring the provisions of the recently enacted California right-to-repair law nationwide. This step is set to benefit consumers across all states.
California’s new law mandates manufacturers to provide the necessary parts, tools, and documentation to independent repair shops and consumers at fair and reasonable prices, thereby enhancing consumer choice and accessibility. Allstate Insurance also voiced its support for greater access to parts and independent repair options for vehicle repairs, emphasizing the potential for substantial cost savings.
Government Initiatives and State-Level Action
Both the federal government and individual states have taken several steps to advance the right to repair across various industries:
- The FTC voted unanimously to strengthen law enforcement of right-to-repair restrictions, ensuring that small businesses, workers, and consumers can exercise their right to repair. Settlements in multiple right-to-repair cases have already been announced.
- The EPA affirmed its support for the right to repair and clarified its compatibility with Clean Air Act provisions, demonstrating the alignment of the right to repair with environmental laws.
- A report from the EPA highlighted the hazards of improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries found in cellphones and laptops. The report emphasized that when batteries are easy to remove from consumer devices, it leads to longer product lifespans, reduced waste, and safer battery recycling.
- The U.S. Copyright Office expanded exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to provide greater access to diagnosis, maintenance, and repair capabilities.
- Over 30 states have introduced right-to-repair legislation covering various sectors, with recent laws passed in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York over the last three years.
This roundtable signals a commitment to empowering consumers, reducing waste, and supporting small businesses through the right to repair—a crucial step toward a more competitive and sustainable future.