New York’s governor signs watered-down right-to-repair bill

New York’s governor signs watered-down right-to-repair bill

Almost seven months after the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a right-to-repair bill, New York governor Kathy Hochul has signed it into law. But Hochul only greenlit the bill after the legislature agreed to some changes. Hochul wrote in a memo that the legislation, as it was originally drafted, “included technical issues that could put safety and security at risk, as well as heighten the risk of injury from physical repair projects.” The governor said the modifications addressed these issues, but critics say the amendments will weaken the law’s effectiveness.

“This legislation would enhance consumer options in the repair markets by granting them greater access to the parts, tools and documents needed for repairs,” Hochul wrote. “Encouraging consumers to maximize the lifespan of their devices through repairs is a laudable goal to save money and reduce electronic waste.”

The changes strip out the bill’s requirement for “original equipment manufacturers [or OEMs] to provide to the public any passwords, security codes or materials to override security features.” OEMs will also be able to bundle “assemblies of parts” instead of just the specific component actually needed for a DIY repair if “the risk of improper installation heightens the risk of injury.” 

The rules will only apply to devices that are originally built and used or sold in New York for the first time after July 1st. There’s also an exemption for “digital products that are the subject of business-to-business or business-to-government sales and that otherwise are not offered for sale by retailers.”

As Ars Technica reported earlier this month, representatives for Microsoft and Apple pressed Hochul’s office for changes. So did industry association TechNet, which represents many notable tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Dell, HP and Engadget parent Yahoo.

As a result, the bill’s revised language excludes enterprise electronics, such as those that schools, hospitals, universities and data centers rely on, as iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens wrote in a blog post. Home appliances, motor vehicles, medical devices and off-road equipment were previously exempted.

“Such changes could limit the benefits for school computers and most products currently in use,” Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), a collective of consumer rights organizations, said in a statement to Engadget. “Even more troubling, the bill now excludes certain smartphone circuit boards from parts the manufacturers are required to sell, and requires repair shops to post unwieldy warranty language.”

“We knew it was going to be difficult to face down the biggest and wealthiest companies in the world,” PIRG right to repair director Nathan Proctor said. “But, though trimmed down, a new Right to Repair law was signed. Now our work remains to strengthen this law and pass others until people have what they need to fix their stuff.”

As The Verge notes, repair technician and right-to-repair advocate Louis Rossmann said the changes have watered down the law to the point where it’s “functionally useless.” Rossmann, who spent seven years trying to get the bill passed, called Hochul’s assertion that the changes were necessary to include protections from physical harm and security risks “bullshit,” citing a Federal Trade Commission report on the issue.

The right-to-repair movement has picked up steam over the last couple of years. Ahead of expected legislation coming into force, companies such as Google, Apple, Samsung and Valve started providing repair manuals and selling parts for some of their products.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that aimed at bolstering competition in the US, including in the tech industry. Among other measures, it called on the FTC to ban “anticompetitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.”

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Kris Holt

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