Am I Next? California's Right to Repair Law: Forced Technology Transfer

The upside of the proposed California Right to Repair Act for consumers is obvious: faster, cheaper repairs that will extend the life of their electronic devices and postpone the replacement cost for a new device. 

According to the author of the Act, Assembly-member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), “The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence,”

Consumerism meets environmentalism

People who can’t afford the high price of manufacturer-based repair services are increasingly forced to prematurely replace durable goods, such as phones, TVs, and appliances. Repairing and reusing electronics is not only a more efficient use of the scarce materials that go into manufacturing the products, but it can also stimulate local economies instead of unsustainable overseas factories. “People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.” 

However, for manufacturers, it may be a costly burden and result in a tradeoff between higher initial device costs versus lower repair costs.

The legislation would require manufacturers of electronics to make diagnostic and repair information, as well as equipment or service parts, available to product owners and to independent repair shops.

Costly considerations.

  • It definitely reduces repair profits and the pricy nature of repair parts and labor which may necessitate price increases of initial devices.
  • Costs will increase as manufacturers need to anticipate repair needs and stock versioned repair parts for a number of years. 
  • There will be an unwelcome demand for forced technology transfer where the details of certain internal proprietary circuitry, diagnostic equipment, and design information must be made public in order to effect the repair. 
  • Vendors may pushback by demanding costly certification courses to work on their products. 
  • Warranty reimbursements may be an issue as an unauthorized repair may void any device or component warranties. 
  • There may be unwelcome reputational damage to the brand if independent repair stations use non-vendor parts and/or the device fails after repair.

California joins 17 other states who have introduced similar legislation, which includes: Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia.

Let us forget that any program requires an additional bureaucracy to enforce standards and to ensure compliance with the law. A cost that will be born by California taxpayers -- either directly or indirectly. 

ASSEMBLY BILL A.B. 2110:  Electronics: Right to Repair Act

Existing law, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, enacts a comprehensive and innovative system for the reuse, recycling, and proper and legal disposal of covered electronic devices, as defined, and provides incentives to design electronic devices that are less toxic, more recyclable, and that use recycled materials. 

Existing law establishes the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation under the supervision and control of the Director of Consumer Affairs. Existing law requires the director to administer and enforce provisions relating to the licensure and regulation of, among others, electronic and appliance repair dealers. 

  • This bill would enact the Right to Repair Act.
  • The bill would require the original equipment manufacturer of electronic equipment or parts sold and used in the state to, among other things, provide to independent repair providers and owners of the equipment certain parts, tools, and information, including diagnostic and repair information, as specified, for the purpose of providing a fair marketplace for the repair of that equipment.
  • The bill would require compliance with these provisions for equipment or parts that are no longer manufactured for 5 years after the date the original equipment manufacturer ceases to manufacture the equipment or parts. 
  • The bill would authorize a city, county, city, and county, or the state to impose civil penalties for a violation of these provisions.

And because this is California, I can anticipate a time when there will be an additional state or local fee tacked on to each and every repair bill to ensure that the homeless, the poor, minorities, and women have access to low-cost subsidized repair. Much like the program that provides cellphones to disadvantaged populations.