Earlier this month President Joe Biden issued an executive order that by his own estimation would stimulate economic competition and roll back monopolistic practices on the part of large corporations. One part of the order includes measures relating to tech companies preventing consumers from either personally repairing broken proprietary hardware, such as a smart device or an electric car, or hiring a third-party repair company to do it for them. In theory, the order nudges the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) towards standardized rules relating to how consumers repair proprietary hardware. As it stands, consumers in many states who accidentally break their Apple iPhone, for instance, can only get their device fixed by going through special Apple-certified repair providers. Unfortunately, these providers are often time consuming and expensive. Not to mention that in certain regions, even locating such a specialist is difficult if not impossible. This tension illustrates a challenge that's unique to modern computing and commerce, one that any enterprise leader should be aware of.
The Right to Repair Movement
Strict rules around repairing one's own equipment is a relatively new development. In the past, it was easy enough for consumers to take their cars, appliances, and computers to a local, independently operated repair shop, which could provide service that was quick and cheap when compared to getting repairs directly from the manufacturer. Nowadays, it's common for companies to either restrict information on how to repair their products by withholding repair manuals, for instance, or putting locking software on their products that prevents customers from modifying their devices without company permission. This issue has particularly affected farmers, who were left out in the cold when new, computerized tractors broke down, and they had to wait for a licensed provider to fix the tractors for them, as opposed to fixing the equipment themselves like they could in the past. As mentioned before, this method of repair was often onerously expensive and inefficient.
It wasn't long before consumers and advocates began to push back against these restrictions, giving birth to the Right to Repair movement. The movement aims to pass laws granting consumers more freedom over fixing and modifying their devices. Moreover, movement advocates claim that such legislation would prevent small business owners who provide repairs from being pushed out of the market by giant tech companies. Right to repair laws currently vary from state to state. Notably, Massachusetts has lead the movement with legislation passed last year, which granted independent providers the right to access previously shuttered-off data for the purposes of providing repairs to their customers. Tech companies often claim that such laws pose a risk to both security and the integrity of their intellectual property. Some, such as Tesla, have even lobbied against legislation like the laws passed in Massachusetts, claiming that opening proprietary data to the public would give opportunities for criminals to exploit the software to their own ends, potentially even endangering consumers in the process.
The Federal Trade Commission has not released any nationwide right to repair-like standards or practices to date.
Repair, Upkeep, and Your Business
Acquiring and maintaining computers and other technology is expensive. Even if an enterprise leader doesn't support right to repair style legislation, it's important to consider how repair practices could impact their operations. Thankfully, there are ways to legally circumvent the problems of long or expensive repair times. Refurbished computers, for instance, often use readily available and well-understood parts, making them easy to upgrade and repair. Moreover, the internet is full of free to use resources, created by volunteers, detailing how to fix and upgrade equipment.
Lastly, having a good managed IT partner at your back, who knows both the business and technical side of the industry, can do a lot to prevent loss of productivity and profit due to broken machines. They can recommend which equipment to buy and indicate the best (and least expensive) way to keep them operable and up to date.
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