New York has become the first state in the U.S. to sign a right to repair bill into law. In theory the bill, and others like it, puts the power back into consumers’ hands. Instead of paying costly repair fees or having to replace a broken device, people can simply buy a replacement part and fix their own tech. The European Union is looking to put right to repair laws in place, and there is also a push to get something enacted at a federal level in the United States. On paper, New York has beaten everyone to the punch. In reality, the state’s new right to repair bill isn’t all that it seems — and people aren’t happy.
New York’s bill is meant for small electronic devices, with things like home appliances, vehicles, medical devices, and off-road equipment exempted by name. It aims to give consumers access to things that could help them self-repair things they’ve purchased, such as manuals, diagrams, diagnostic tools, and parts.
Companies have also preempted the rise of right to repair programs by bringing in or planning their own self-repair schemes. Samsung, which has paired with iFixit, launched its right to repair program in early 2022. Apple promised a right to repair program was on its way back in 2021 before launching it several months later. Companies like Apple have also been steadfastly against the implementation of any kind of right to repair law, preferring to retain a lot of control over how their devices can be serviced. New York’s new bill could leave a lot of that control in the hands of manufacturers instead of empowering device owners like it was supposed to.
What went wrong with New York’s bill?
Despite the bill being signed into law, there has been plenty of suggestion that the amendments have left it neutered. Changes made to the original bill include giving manufacturers the right to provide “assemblies of parts” instead of individual components. A requirement that manufacturers provide “passwords, security codes, and materials to override security features” to the public has also been dropped. Finally, the rules only apply to devices manufactured “on or after July 1 2023,” so if you buy a new iPhone on June 30, 2023, you’re out of luck in a legal sense.
The issues these amendments cause may be obvious. Instead of selling you a cheap ribbon cable to replace a broken part, a manufacturer can choose to only offer an expensive unit consisting of several parts you probably don’t need. Security codes could also be used to make certain repairs off limits without falling foul of the bill. The fact you can’t demand parts for a device you already have is just an extra kick in the teeth.
New: Gov. Hochul has signed the â€œright to repairâ€ law â€” with the Legislature agreeing to a number of changes, as outlined in her approval message. pic.twitter.com/GUBExlj5BD
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellNY) December 29, 2022
The reasoning behind the amendments, according to New York Governor Kathy Hochul who signed off on the bill, was twofold. Hochul claims the original bill that landed on her desk would have put the safety of those making the repairs at risk, and threatened device security. However, some people aren’t buying it and instead insist the bill has been purposely sabotaged by the governor.
People are not happy with NY Governor Kathy Hochul
Both the bill and the governor who signed it are receiving a fair amount of backlash from the people who have been waiting years for legislation like this to come into force. Right-to-repair advocate and repair technician Louis Rossmann has gone as far as to describe the bill as “functionally useless” and accuse the governor of sabotaging it. Rossman goes on to highlight several of the problems the amendments pose, including granting manufacturers the ability to “tell you that when you have a bad $28 chip on your motherboard that what you need to do is replace the $745 motherboard.”
Several Twitter users also voiced their concerns about the new bill, with many calling it a disappointment and laying the blame firmly at Hochul’s door. User iPad Rehab said: “This is terrible. She killed this bill, allowing OEMs to continue to tie device function to branded parts. As a New Yorker, I’m disappointed in you.” Eugene Spagnuolo echoed Rossman’s concerns, saying: “Every manufacturer can now offer more expensive assemblies instead of cheaper and more environmentally sound parts in the interest of “safety.” The bill is now trash.” Gregory Conley also chipped in, saying, “That July 2023 date seems like the most significant win for the companies that were lobbying to kill this.”
While getting any right to repair bill passed in the face of relentless advocacy is an achievement, the milestone seems to have left a bitter taste in the mouth of many of the bill’s advocates. Federal legislation could still override the bill, and amendments could be made in the future. As things stand though, it seems like the struggle is set to continue for right to repair advocates in New York and beyond.