The Right to Repair refers to proposed legislation in several international regions which would allow consumers the right to repair their own consumer electronic devices. In many cases, the manufacturer requires the consumer to use their service portals or systems. The focus of the conversation here is on consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers, but the reader needs to be aware that the Right to Repair conversation is rather robust, covering many items such as automobiles, farm equipment, home appliances and of course consumer electronics.
But how do the Digital Divide and the Right to Repair mesh together?
The Digital Divide conversation is about providing economical telecommunications services to under served citizens while the Right to Repair is about assuring economical services for electronic technologies, post-purchase.
This spring we learned that the European Union approved a law that required all manufacturers to provide parts for their appliances, etc. for up to 10 years post manufacture. This is a great piece of legislation because for many of us, these appliances start to break down after the fifth year of service. We are somehow still committed to these appliances and a repair would be preferable and more economical than an outright replacement, if possible. Indeed, the previous generation keeps telling us about some of their appliances that are over 20 years old and still running strong.
Figure 1: Logo for Right to Repair Europe
The European Right to Repair law currently applies to only white goods (i.e. household appliances) and will soon apply to mobile technologies and computers. Their Parliament did not favour the home repair person, they stuck with the professional repair-people in this case, as part of their legislation. The home repair lobby is still looking to make its case here.
In the U.S.A., the Right to Repair laws has come about through the automotive lobby. The electronics community is nevertheless- working hard on this issue, but it seems that they need to achieve legislative results on a state-by-state basis. Some progress has been made in a few states, but progress is slow. Figure 2 shows the a State by State Right to Repair Bill, status.
Figure 2: Right to Repair USA Progress
Push-back on this issue comes from the big brand lobbies which generally do not support this idea. But help is on its way. President Biden on July 9th, 2021 signed an executive order into place directing the Federal Trade Commission to draft new regulations limiting device manufacturers’ ability to restrict independent repairs of their products.
Figure 3: Right to Repair – Biden signs Executive Order
In Canada, some legislators have introduced Right to Repair legislation in Ontario and Quebec in 2019. Both bills did not proceed past their legislative introduction and it would seem that a province-by-province process will be needed if this eventually picks up momentum. There is however no progress on this front currently. Perhaps it is time for Canada to borrow the ideas from Europe and the USA and put forth their own Right to Repair. Here is a link to Canada’s case for the Right to Repair.
Figure 4: What should Canada to with Right to Repair
Digital Divide solutions oft-times enable the case where electronic goods are refurbished and then returned to a new owner, thereby providing a new life – albeit an extended life for those goods. This process is commendable as it reduces the carbon footprint of these products and extends their lifecycle. This is all in addition to enabling a user who may not be able to afford the purchase price. Figure 5 indicates why the Right to Repair is important and echoes the ideas that these participants are providing to the general community.
What the Right to Repair also infers and considers is the ability of consumers to repair their own devices. At the simplest level, many computers can be repaired or upgraded by the user. Some manufacturers on the other hand prevent – home repair of their products (computers and mobile devices) by putting up technical and other obstacles. One YouTuber who has a busy and interesting channel with a lot to say on this matter is Louis Ross. Louis is highly focused on MacBooks on his channel. Here is also a recent story about two women who learned to repair iPhones from the ground up and created their own business – iPad Rehab. Steve Wozniak has a lot to say in this article about how his first Apple projects came out of the open technology world and offers his support for Right to Repair movement.
Figure 5: Why Right to Repair is Important