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New York State took a historic step toward curbing the power of Big Tech when lawmakers passed the Digital Fair Repair Act, giving citizens the right to get their phones, tablets, and computers fixed. For years, advocates of the “right to repair” have pushed for such legislation across the country. They argue that making gadget repairs easier not only saves consumers money, but also reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing and electronic waste. Most of those bills have failed amid intense opposition from tech companies that want to decide how and where their products are serviced.
The tech industry was reportedly caught off guard by the passage of the Digital Fair Repair Act last June, but it had time to act before Governor Cathy Hochul signed it into law. Corporate lobbyists went to work, pressuring Albany for exemptions and changes that would reduce the bill. They were largely successful: While the bill Hochul signed in late December remains a victory for the right-to-repair movement, the more corporate-friendly text gives consumers and independent repair shops less access to parts and tools than the original proposal. provides. (The state Senate has yet to vote on adopting the amended bill, but is widely expected to do so.)
The new version of the law only applies to devices made after mid-2023, so it won’t help people recover content they own. It also exempts electronics used exclusively by businesses or the government. Had Hochul, a Democrat, signed a tougher bill, all those devices would have been more likely to become electronic waste. And manufacturing new devices to replace broken electronics will emit more greenhouse gases.
Draft versions of the bill, letters and email correspondence shared with Grist by the repair advocacy organization repair.org show that many of the changes Hochul proposed to the Digital Fair Repair Act are similar to those proposed by TechNet, a trade association that includes Apple is included, Google, Samsung, and HP are among its members. Jake Egloff, a member of the Democratic New York State Assembly and legislative director for bill sponsor Patricia Fahey, confirmed the authenticity of the email and bill draft shared with Grist.
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“We had every environmental group supporting this bill,” Fahey told Grist. “What harm is done to this bill, Big Tech was opposing it.”
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org, told Grist that New York passed the “huge” of any electronics right-to-repair bill. But “it could have been much bigger” if not for the intervention of the tech industry.
Reached for comment, the governor’s office sent Grist a copy of a statement Hochul issued when she signed the bill, outlining the changes made to the text. His staff declined to answer questions about the potential negative effects of those changes, or the process behind them.
For years, consumer technology companies like Apple have effectively monopolized the repair of their devices by limiting access to parts, tools, and manuals to “authorized repair partners,” who often perform only a small number of manufacturer-approved fixes. Are. Those limited services often force consumers to choose between continuing to use a broken device or getting a new device. The version of the Digital Fair Repair Act that passed New York’s Senate and Assembly last spring seeks to level the playing field for independent shops, requiring that companies provide parts to everyone on fair and reasonable terms, Provide equipment and documentation.
A broad coalition of manufacturers opposed the bill in the spring, and its sponsors had to make significant compromises to get it passed. “We made a number of changes to get to the finish line in the first day or two of June,” Fahey said.
Those changes included explicit exclusions for everything from home appliances to police radios to farm equipment. Fahey says she was willing to give up those devices because she thought that focusing on smaller electronics would give consumers “the biggest bang for their buck.” Data from repair guide site iFixit shows that eight of the top 10 appliances New Yorkers attempted to repair in 2020 were small consumer electronics, with cell phones and laptops topping the list.
The Digital Fair Repair Act passed the Assembly by a vote of 145 to 1 after clearing the Senate by 59 to 4. Despite that overwhelming support, the tech industry was unfazed by its passage, said Democratic State Senator Neil Breslin, who sponsored the bill. “There are a number of people who were advocating parts of this [manufacturers] who were not, in fact, in private chats hoping it would come to pass,” Breslin told Grist.
At that point, opponents of the bill approached Hochul seeking a concession. Specifically, state lobbying records show TechNet held frequent meetings with the governor between June and December, when he signed the bill. State records show lobbyists representing Apple, Google and Microsoft also met with the governor.
All of these organizations have lobbied against right to reparation bills in other states, often citing intellectual property and cyber security concerns. But some, notably Microsoft, have softened their stance in recent years. Fahey said that Microsoft “persistently tried to reach out” to his office to cooperate on the bill. In a letter sent to the governor in November, the company requested several edits but did not ask for a veto. (Microsoft, Google and Apple declined to comment.)
In letters sent to Hochul in July and August, Apple, IBM and TechNet all asked the governor to veto the bill. (IBM also declined to comment.) When the veto didn’t happen immediately, TechNet sent Hochul a truncated version with edits attributed to David Edmonson, the trade organization’s vice president of state policy and government relations. . Among other things, TechNet requested that the law apply only to future products sold in the state, that it exclude products sold only through business-to-business or government contracts, and that it exclude printed Excludes circuit boards on the basis that they can be used. for counterfeit devices. It also sought to allow manufacturers to offer consumers independent and fixer assemblies, such as batteries already attached with other components, if selling the parts separately could pose a “safety risk”. Additionally, Technet wanted a requirement that independent repair shops provide customers with written notice of US warranty laws before repairs are performed.
Hochul’s office sent a revised draft to Technet for repairs to get advocates’ feedback. Those advocates shared a TechNet-edited version of the bill with Fahey’s staff, which passed it on to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, the agency charged with protecting American consumers. Documents shared with Grist by Repair.org show that FTC staffers were highly critical of many of the changes. The parts assembly provision, a commission employee wrote in response to TechNet’s edit, “could easily be abused by a manufacturer” to create a two-tier system in which individual components such as batteries are available only to authorized repair partners. Another of TechNet’s proposed changes—the removal of a requirement that manufacturers give owners and independent shops the ability to reset security locks for repairs—could result in a “hollow right to repair” in which security systems allow people to Prevents you from recovering your belongings, the employee wrote.
Dan Salsberg, a chief counsel in the FTC’s Office of Technology, Research and Investigations, wrote in an email to Fahey, “These special TechNet edits have a common theme — ensuring that manufacturers retain control of the market for repairing their products. ” Office.
Despite the agency’s stern warning, all of the changes described above, and several other edits proposed by TechNet, appeared in the bill signed by Hochul — many of them verbatim.
Chris Gilrain, TechNet’s executive director for the Northeast, told Grist in an emailed statement that the bill passed by the Legislature “presents an unacceptable risk to consumer data privacy and security,” and that his organization’s recommended changes “address the most serious security issues.” We do.” Manufacturers often cite cyber security as a reason for restricting access to repairs, an argument the FTC found “little evidence” to support in a report to Congress published in 2021.
Gilrain disputed the notion that the final version of the bill favored the tech industry. “At its core, the law remains a state-mandated transfer of intellectual property that is unfair at a time when consumers have access to more repair options than ever before,” he said.
Todd Bone, president of XS International, a company that maintains and repairs network and data center IT equipment for corporations and the federal government, says the law provides “nothing” for his business because business under Governor carving for equipment sold – business or government contracts.
“It was very disappointing,” Bone told Grist, “to see the governor working with TechNet and ignoring the votes of Congress and the Senate in New York State, [and] What New York State consumers wanted.
Jessa Jones, who founded iPad Rehab, an independent repair shop in Honoy Falls, about 20 miles south of Rochester, New York, says the original bill included provisions that would have made devices for independent shops like hers, Would have made it very easy to get parts. , and information needed to repair, He pointed to changes that allow manufacturers to release repair equipment that only works with spare parts made by them, while at the same time controlling how those spare parts are used , both of which were requested by TechNet.
“If you continue down this path, allowing manufacturers to force us to use their branded parts and service, where they are allowed to attribute the device’s function to their branded parts and service, this repair No,” Jones said. “It’s authoritarian control.”
After repair advocates shared TechNet’s draft with Fahy’s office, they collaborated on a counterproposal that pushed back against many of the proposed changes. Fahey said the last-minute negotiations with the governor’s office were “frustrating,” though she still wants to see the bill become law.
Fahey expects the New York State Department to clarify aspects of the bill that have been tainted by industry influence. The agency, which plays a role in consumer protection, will frame rules on how the law will be implemented. Ultimately, Fahey says the bill will still help consumers save money and keep old devices out of landfills. And every little bit counts: In New York State alone, the US Public Interest Research Group estimates that Americans discard about 23,600 cell phones every day.
Fahey also believes that the law — imperfect though it may be — will have a ripple effect beyond state borders. It could trigger efforts to pass similar laws in dozens of other states. Eventually, passage of state bills could lead to a national agreement between electronics manufacturers and the independent repair community, as happened in the car industry after Massachusetts passed an auto right-to-repair law in 2012.
Other lawmakers agree that New York has provided a welcome starting point.
“When you are the first state, sometimes you have to pass something very small to cross the finish line,” said Representative Mia Gregerson of Washington state, a Democrat who is a digital right-to-repair bill in her state house. are sponsoring the bill, told Grist. New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act, Gregerson said, “gives us something to work with.”
“We’re just going to take it and try to do a better piece of legislation,” Gregerson said.