Capital Region State Lawmakers Back Digital Fair Repair Act | WAMC

Capital Region State Lawmakers Back Digital Fair Repair Act

May 6, 2021

New York officials and consumer activists say it should be easier for the average person and small business to repair certain electronics.

The Digital Fair Repair Act allows individuals and small businesses to repair digital devices ranging from smartphones, computers, farm equipment to household appliances.

Backers say products from companies like Apple and Samsung can only be repaired by the manufacturer or by a sanctioned third party, often so expensive a fix that it makes more sense to purchase a new device.

Louis Rossman owns a fix-it shop in Manhattan and he firmly supports the legislation, citing a 2019 MacBook that retails for $2,000.

"Apple charges $1500 to fix the motherboard, the chip that dies is five bucks. So there's anywhere between that $5 cost of the chip and the 1500 Apple charges you, that this there's a lot of room there to be able to make a living at fixing them. And when I go to the manufacturer of the chip and I say 'hi I'd like to buy this'. They say publicly we can sell it to Apple doesn't allow us to sell it to you. And more companies are doing this across every single industry. And I'm still able to get access to some of this stuff by means that I'm obviously not going to put in a public broadcast. But but many new people are not. And that means that they're not going to be able to start repair businesses, they're not going to be able to help save their customers money."

Gay Gordon-Byrne is executive director of the consumer advocate Repair Association.

"Things used to come with manuals, well, those were printed. And when they put them on the internet, they stopped printing them. And then they started saying well, we need you to login so we know who's on our account. Then they said, Well, we could use this as a paywall. And then they said, Oh, we don't want anybody see it at all. And it's kind of been a downhill slide. It's been going on for 20 years. And we got here because companies have had to do very little to monopolize repair. So they don't sell parts, they don't sell tools, they don't sell diagnostics, they don't sell the, or even post the manuals freely, that would let you know how to go about repairing your stuff. So it's really, we're at the point where probably 90% of the stuff that's on the market, if it has a chip in it, you really aren't going to be able to fix it unless the manufacturer, unless you're going back the manufacturer, and if the manufacturer doesn't feel like it, it's not happening.

Gordon-Byrne says consumers do actually have the legal right to repair but not the legal right to make it practical.

Russ Haven with the New York Public Interest Research Group says it’s past time for the law.

“Imagine if we had to go back and only get our automobiles repaired by the manufacturer or their authorized dealer instead of going to the local repair shop that fixes every brand of car. That's what we want to see for other digital devices. Everything's computerized these days even your coffee maker off and we need to really be producing products that can be repaired, repaired easily including by do-it-yourselfers who want to be able to do this but they need access to information and tools and parts.”

Albany Democratic state Assemblymember Pat Fahy sponsors the bill, which requires electronic companies to provide diagnostic and repair information and release proprietary parts to consumer and local repair businesses.

"It is just a fairness issue and as a consumer I do find it frustrating. I have a I have a crack in my iPhone right now. I've gone to the fix it's in the mall to to help save some money. It's $100 to fix my screen each time I go to fix it. And I was told today if I get a new phone or when I have to, because you almost have to get a new phone at some point, it will be $300 to fix that screen. So that alone is is it's just troublesome and it really keeps people out of the market. And and I do think that this is it becomes a real fairness issue as well as some equity issues here."

Capital Region Democratic Senator Neil Breslin is co-sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate.