PHILADELPHIA, PA — Hospitals struggling to repair ventilators during the novel coronavirus have run into a problem facing multiple industries: they lack the “Right to Repair.”
A new bill from Representative Austin Davis (McKeesport) attempts to change that. Currently, manufacturers often withhold critical information, tools, and parts to fix a wide range of products including cell phones, hospital equipment, tractors, and other devices.
That forces businesses and consumers to return to the manufacturer for almost any fix, from a broken screen to an inoperable combine on the farm. The proposed legislation would require manufacturers to provide parts, tools, service manuals and repair software for a reasonable price.
“You bought it, you own it, you should be able to fix it,” said Representative Austin Davis. “This is a common-sense reform that couldn’t have been introduced at a better time. This measure not only gives power back to the consumer, but it also has the potential to help save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Limited access to repair costs consumers, hurts independent businesses, and threatens farmers’ success. Now it’s putting lives at risk,” said Emma Horst-Martz, Campaign Associate for PennPIRG who is backing the bill. “It’s time to fix this once and for all.”
The bill is being supported by a coalition of local repair businesses, hospital groups, and farmers.
Among them are the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), ISS Solutions – an independently operated business of Geisinger Health Group, and an array of independent repair businesses from across the state.
The movement in Pennsylvania is part of a nationwide effort to tackle disposable electronics and empower repair. Similar legislation was filed in more than 20 states in 2019 including Indiana, Georgia, and Minnesota.
The lack of access to repair has had consequences in three primary industries:
- Apple was caught using a software update to throttle processors in their older phones which caused slow-downs for users. In response to public blowback, they offered a discounted $29 battery replacement, but these replacements had large waitlists, and many people don’t live close to an Apple store to have their phone repaired. Third party repair shops can replace your battery, but they aren’t given the chance to use original parts or special proprietary tools — issues this bill would address.
- Hospitals lose valuable time and money waiting for manufacturer approved repairs when they could train their own team of technicians. UPMC is an example of a healthcare network that saves tens of millions on repair costs and has more flexibility to serve their patients with an in-house repair team. This is particularly important during crises like the novel coronavirus pandemic.
- Farmers have been fixing their equipment for generations, but tractor manufacturers can now lock a farmer out of the tractor he or she purchased because its systems are run on computer software. This means they can exploit farmers by charging high fees to perform even simple repairs and farmers lose important time working when they have to wait for someone from the manufacturer to come out. John Deere has even claimed that farmers do not really own the tractors they buy from the company. This needs to change.
“Having our own trained technicians on staff allowed us to get over 55 ventilators serviced and ready for patients within days, instead of waiting for the manufacturer to come on site,” said Barbara Maguire, Vice President of Quality and Geisinger Healthcare Technology Management at ISS Solutions.
“The ability to repair and modify your own equipment is essential for farmers,” said Dan Dalton of PASA. “Whether it’s simple repairs to get back in your fields in a timely manner, adapting a tractor to run a new implement, or adjusting equipment to perform innovative functions, farmers need to be able to understand how their equipment works and be able to adjust, modify, and update that equipment to suit their evolving needs.”
As technology advanced, products that used to require a simple mechanical fix now require specialized tools, access codes, and detailed schematics to repair. Original equipment manufacturers have created a monopoly on repair services that hurts small businesses, costs consumers, inhibits farmers, and now is limiting the capacity of our healthcare system.
“I take great pride in helping people fix their devices,” said Tim Mentzer of Menter Repair Services. “If we don’t give them the right to repair they will have to turn to manufacturers and at that point those companies can charge whatever they want.”
In addition to the negative impacts on Pennsylvanians, limited repair options also hurt the planet. The world generated an estimated 55 million tons of electronic waste last year.
Making it easier to repair devices would keep those electronics on the market, rather than being thrown away to leak toxic materials back into the earth and water.
The non-profit Tech Dump takes donated electronics to repair or recycle, and estimates that only 14 percent can be repaired due to lack of parts and manuals, which Right to Repair reforms would address.
Moving forward, a coalition made up of farmers, independent repair shops, hospital groups, and others will continue working to show support for Right to Repair.
“This is about ownership and choice. Pennsylvanians have the right to choose between a variety of repair options, but we need the law to protect this right,” finished Horst-Martz.
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