The Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to push for consumers’ right to repair devices such as smartphones, home appliances, cars and even farm equipment, arguing that large companies have inflicted costs on consumers by making it more difficult to repair such devices. repair products.
All five commissioners — two Republicans and three Democrats — voted in favor of a policy statement that promises to investigate whether companies that make it more difficult for consumers to repair products violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, and to step up enforcement of the laws against violators.
“These kinds of restrictions can significantly increase costs for consumers, stifle innovation, shut down business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs and undermine resilience,” said Lina Khan, the committee chair. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to eradicate illegal repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward with new vigor on this issue.”
The committee’s vote on Wednesday is in line with President Biden’s policy of prioritizing initiatives to increase competition between large companies and limit their power. In an executive order this month, Mr. Biden encouraged the commission to crack down on companies that make it more difficult for consumers to get equipment or electronics repaired by outside stores. It cited farm equipment manufacturers — the tractor manufacturer John Deere, for example — who use licensing agreements that prevent farmers from repairing their tractors themselves.
Wednesday’s vote was a victory for the “right to repair” movement, which has long pushed for repair-friendly policies at the federal, state and local levels. Nathan Proctor, the senior director of the United States Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair campaign, celebrated the agency’s decision in a statement.
“They have pledged to assist states in making the right to fix improvements and to address illegal behavior by manufacturers,” Mr. Proctor said. “The FTC is no longer on the sidelines.”
But TechNet, an advocacy group that represents tech companies, including Google and Apple, criticized the commission’s move, saying it would only endanger consumer safety.
“The FTC’s decision to improve an effective and safe system for consumers to repair products they rely on for their health, safety and well-being, including telephones, computers, fire alarms, medical devices and home security systems, will be much far-reaching, lasting implications for technology and cybersecurity,” said Carl Holshouser, senior vice president of TechNet, in a statement.
It sent a report to Congress in May entitled “Nixing the Fix,” detailing how companies have designed products that are more difficult to repair and how they have narrowed repair options to encourage consumers to buy new products more often. There is “little evidence to support manufacturers’ justification for repair limitations,” the report said.
It also noted that the restrictions imposed by companies harm consumers, especially communities of color and low-income communities. According to the report, the cost of buying a new product or the difficulty of repairing a product can be disproportionately heavy on small businesses owned by people of color.