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Right to repair would save Pa. residents hundreds of dollars a year, House panel hears

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 25, 2024

Legislation giving consumers the right to repair electronic devices would save the average Pennsylvania household hundreds of dollars a year and dramatically reduce the amount of electronic waste sent to landfills, an advocate told lawmakers Monday in Harrisburg.

Many electronics, appliance and vehicle makers limit the range of repairs they will perform and require independent repair shops to sign contracts to get access to diagnostic software and parts, limiting the ability of consumers to repair products that they have purchased.

“The costs of devices are increasing exponentially and consumers deserve a level of protection,” state Rep. Kyle Mullins (D-Lackawanna) said Monday in a hearing on right-to-repair laws before the House Commerce Committee.

Five states have passed versions of the legislation and a bill that would require manufacturers to provide access to documentation, parts and tools used to diagnose, maintain and repair electronic equipment is pending in the Pennsylvania Senate.

Mullins said he plans to introduce similar legislation in the House. 

But many manufacturers oppose such legislation, saying that they need to control who works on their products to ensure that repairs are made correctly and to ensure safety and regulatory compliance. The Senate bill would exclude medical and agricultural equipment.

Roxy Kozyckyj of the Advanced Medical Technology Association said a right-to-repair law would require medical technology providers to share proprietary design and repair information with third-party services. 

“Often these providers themselves lack the necessary training to repair complex medical systems. Patients and consumers rely on our technology’s accuracy to provide proper diagnosis and maintain safety standards,” Kozyckyj said.

Brad Hershey, chairperson of the North American Equipment Dealers Association, said the farm and construction equipment industry supports customers’ right to repair their own equipment through voluntary agreements with the American Federation of Farm Bureaus, but it opposes legislation.

Typically, right-to-repair bills include provisions that would control the price of parts stocked and sold by manufacturers’ distributors.

“We keep a wide array of parts in inventory so that when customers walk in the door, there is a very good chance we have that part on hand for them,” said Hershey, who is a partner in Hoober Inc., which sells farm and construction equipment in Pennsylvania and four other states. “The cost of keeping that inventory on hand is substantial.”

If distributors were required to sell parts at cost it would harm farmers by decreasing the amount of inventory available, Hershey said.

His organization also opposes legislation that requires manufacturers to provide unrestricted access to software controlling safety and emissions systems.

“In other words, it would force manufacturers to allow tampering and modification of those systems. This cannot be allowed. It would pose a serious safety risk to our employees and the machines they work on,” Hershey said.

Nathan Proctor, who runs right to repair campaigns for the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), said manufacturers have an obvious incentive to restrict the repair of their products.

“When the only one who can fix something is the manufacturer or their brand authorized service provider, they can charge you whatever they want to fix your product. They can control the cost of that repair. They can decide not to repair something and to force you to get an upgrade that you maybe don’t want,” Proctor said.

PIRG’s research found that repairing products rather than replacing them would save the average household $330 a year or $40 billion nationwide. Allowing the cost of repairs to increase unchecked deepens the digital divide by putting a burden on financially distressed people and reducing the availability of affordable second hand devices, Proctor said. 

Restricting who can perform repairs also hurts small businesses, Proctor added. Independent repair shops could be put out of business if manufacturers such as Apple are able to control the compatibility of replacement parts with their devices. 

“It’s hard to plan the future if that kind of threat is hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles. These shops need legal protection to grow and thrive,” Proctor said.

Manufacturing electronics produces significant carbon emissions. If Americans – who replace between 140 million and 150 million smartphones every year – used their phones one year longer on average, it would be equivalent to taking 636,000 cars off the road, Proctor said.

“There’s a better way. We can empower repair, cut waste, cut costs, support local businesses, and more. This issue is not going away until Americans can fix their stuff,” Proctor said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.