The House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development held a hybrid hearing on “Right to Repair and What it Means for Entrepreneurs” on Wednesday.
The committee chaired by Jared Golden (D-ME) looked to see on whether Congress should limit the restrictions that manufacturers are allowed to place on their software, parts, and tools so that farmers, third-party mechanics, and consumers can be allowed to make their repairs on equipment.
The Two Sides of the Right to Repair Debate
The Right to Repair argument stems from the fact that manufacturers are reluctant to relinquish control of the maintenance and repair of their products. In most cases, manufacturers would offer a system where a limited number of companies or dealers are authorized to fix their products.
However, independent repair service providers and third-party businesses contend that they can’t properly offer after-sales support to customers as these certified services force customers to incur lengthy waiting times and high costs. This has led some to push for legislation to compel manufacturers to relinquish their control over the repair market and offer consumers more options in terms of how they repair their products.
Sides Spar Over Right to Repair
During the hearing that spanned close to two hours, the subcommittee heard from both sides of the debate. Ken Taylor, who represented the Association of Equipment Dealers (AED) expressed concern that giving ordinary people access to the internal software inside their equipment would allow them to modify emissions and safety controls tractors and other vehicles.
“AED members support the right for customers to repair their machinery, we don’t support unfettered access to critical onboard software and information pertaining to environmental and safety protections. Unfortunately, right to repair bills, including the Fair Repair Act (H.R. 4006/S. 3830) and similar legislative proposals, have serious environmental, safety, legal, economic, intellectual property, and cybersecurity implications”, said Taylor.
Taylor also pointed out that dealers already sell several parts to farmers, but do not want to see customers trying to tamper with internal controls for safety, environmental and intellectual property reasons.
“As a dealer, we have very high standards of what we want to see the customer experience and so those standards won’t be sacrificed. When we move outside the authorized dealer network, there’s no ability to control standards and companies meeting those standards”, said Taylor.
Claudia Tenney, (R-NY), Ranking Republican Member also cautioned that there are other issues at stake besides offering access to repairs.
“Looking at the bigger picture, I harbor serious concerns over the potential theft of American manufacturers’ intellectual property if forced to divulge such information under right-to-repair laws. We could be practically inviting foreign and potentially hostile entities to steal American innovation out from under us. American manufacturers could be stuck with the bill for the upfront research, development, and production costs only to turn around and have to compete against foreign companies making similar products based off of stolen American IP”, cautioned Congresswoman Claudia Tenney.
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition, countered that the right-to-repair issue is particularly important for underserved rural areas as well as for low-income Americans who cannot afford to simply replace broken items with new ones.
“I live in a community where repair is kind of in our DNA, and we need to be able to do it – and that’s not just consumers, that’s also all the businesses in town. They face the same problems and they need the same options to be able to fix their stuff.”, said Gay Gordon-Byrne.
She also added that consumers and mechanics are being cut off from wireless diagnostics and data restoring repair monopolies on more recent vehicles.
“As a result, the auto repair market is now headed down the same disastrous path as the market for repair of cell phones, TVs, and tractors. Legislation must therefore fill the void left by incomplete voluntary actions…only Congress can make sure that copyright laws or patent laws are not used as a method of blocking repair”, she added.
For his part, Congressman Jared Golden also pointed out that repair restrictions hurt businesses.
“These burdensome delays can cost small farms days in wasted productivity and thousands of dollars in revenue. And these restrictions don’t just impact entrepreneurs that use machinery; they also hurt the many independent businesses that work to repair these products. Independent repair shops frequently offer lower prices and better service than large manufacturers. These are just two pieces of decades of evidence that repair restrictions raise costs, hurt small businesses, and encourage waste”, said Congressman Golden.
What has been happening?
Some companies have already made accessible concessions in terms of offering parts, tools, and manuals to consumers to make their repairs. For example, Apple has recently made available self-service repair kits including repair manuals and genuine Apple parts and tools to consumers for the iPhone and Mac that can be purchased through the Apple Self Service Repair Store.
Another debate on the issue of the right to repair is also scheduled in Congress next week. Congress’ Committee on Rules’ Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process will meet on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, at 10:00 to hold a hearing on Right to Repair: Legislative and Budgetary Solutions to Unfair Restrictions on Repair.