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‘Significant Complexities’

Tech, Telecom Groups Ask FTC to Deny Right-to-Repair Petition

The FTC should deny a petition for a right-to-repair rulemaking because the proposal would chill innovation and undermine market-based solutions, tech and telecom groups told the agency in comments due Friday (see 2401040020). U.S. Public Interest Research Group and iFixit filed a petition in November for an FTC rulemaking seeking rules making independent repair easier and more widely available.

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Forcing companies to “share sensitive information” with consumers and independent repair shops “undermines” competition, said CTA, Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet and CTIA in joint comments. Device makers have expanded repair options with the proper amount of consideration for consumer safety, data privacy and intellectual property rights, they said. The petitioners rely on “outdated and largely anecdotal” information about the market for repairs while ignoring “significant complexities” associated with competition and security, they said. Without proper IP protections, “incentives to innovate are chilled and manufacturers are left vulnerable” to having their IP copied, they said. The groups noted independent repair opens the door to privacy abuses related to sensitive information and images, they said.

Consumer groups advocated for the petition, saying device-makers have made product repair too expensive and difficult to access. Device functions are increasingly reliant on embedded electronics, which allow companies to thwart competition and charge inflated prices for repairs, said the Center for Democracy and Technology. CDT pointed out it's more profitable for a company when a consumer discards a device rather than repairs it, which contributes to e-waste. Industry control over the repair market means longer consumer wait times and noncompetitive prices, CDT added.

When we own something, we should be able to do what you want with it, including fix it when it breaks,” said the Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Media Alliance, Public Good Law Center and Consumer Federation of America in joint comments.

Right to repair issues are best addressed by an open market without excessive government control, said the Copyright Alliance. CA noted companies have been responding to consumer demand for the right to repair. It highlighted Apple’s self-service repair program, which allows consumers repair options outside its Genius Bar, and John Deere’s repair agreement with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When faced with consumer demand for a product or service, companies will adjust, and the market will respond with solutions that negate the need for legislative or agency compulsion,” the organization said.

Similarly, the Intellectual Property Owners Association recommended the FTC deny the petition. The IPO said it opposes “unfettered right to repair” for devices and products without the IP owner’s authorization. “The expectation that the creative output resulting from costly R&D initiatives will be protected through existing IP protections is vital and must be preserved,” said the IPO.

The proposed rules would likely increase regulatory hurdles for smaller manufacturers and increase “concentration in several product markets,” said the Competitive Enterprise Institute. At least one of the petitioners stands to benefit financially by “making products less durable” and “limiting the device makers’ ability to improve that durability,” said CEI. IFixit sells repair parts and provides consumers with repair information online.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed in opposition to the petition. The FTC’s Magnuson-Moss rulemaking authority applies only to consumer goods, not commercial products, and it was only intended as a means to increase transparency for consumer product warranties, the Chamber said.