New York State should embrace your right to repair your own electronics.
The right to repair bill would make sure individuals have the technical information necessary to repair their own electronics. Specifically, it would require electronics manufacturers to publicly release the same information that they use to repair your electronics.
The bill’s supporters argue that expanding access to this information would drive competition, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and lowering repair costs for consumers. Currently, electronic and computer repair services in the United States is a $18 billion industry and employs nearly 150,000 people, according to IBIS World, a market research group.
Furthermore, the bill sponsored by State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Central Islip) would make New York the first state to chip away at the frustration of planned obsolescence. In a simplified sense, forced — or planned — obsolescence is the idea that products are intentionally being built to fail. Devices that aren’t built to last may be cheaper for consumers upfront,but the savings are lost once you buy a new device to replace a broken one because that is cheaper than repairing it.
Because of planned obsolescence, the United States contributes heavily to the major ecological issue of e-waste. In 2012, the United States produced 10.4 million tons of e-waste, according to the EPA. Although e-waste was only 2 percent of the country’s total waste, it was nearly 70 percent of all the toxic waste produced. Worse, the EPA estimates that a majority of disposed electronics are fully functioning devices that only have minor issues — which makes it fair to assume that they were thrown out to get a brand new product.
There’s a long history of planned obsolescence in the electronics sector. After the invention of the light bulb, the Phoebus Cartel took control of the sale and manufacturing of bulbs. Led by General Electric and Phillips — two prominent manufacturers even today — the cartel decided making bulbs that they knew would fail quickly was more economical than making efficient bulbs. And while GE might argue that making the cheaper light bulbs allowed more people to illuminate their homes, it created a void of consumer choice in that market.
The inspiration for electronic right to repair actually came from Massachusetts. In 2012, the state passed a similar law that required the automotive industry to provide access to the same technical information that car manufacturers have. The proponents of that bill argued that allowing every service center access to the same information would level the playing field for independent mechanics. Echoing the argument for electronic repair, the Massachusetts bill was designed to give consumers more choice in how they serviced their vehicles, instead of feeling trapped by their car manufacturers.
The law had a domino effect — several international associations agreed to distribute the same information to all 50 states. The actual technical information for vehicles will be made available for the 2018 model year. The hope is that this will set the precedent for electronic right to repair.
It is time for New York to stand on its traditionally high pedestal and push a genuine consumer rights issue. For context, as of 2013, the average American household has 1.8 personal vehicles. Even crazier, as of that same year, the average household uses 28 electronic devices, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
Currently, five states are considering the right to repair — New York, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas and Massachusetts. None of these five states are currently expected to pass the law. It’s time to make our voices heard.
Jager Robinson is a Newsday Opinion intern.