FTC’s Vote Shows Right to Repair’s Bipartisan Face

Note: this post was shared from Fight to Repair Weekly, a weekly newsletter focused on the right to repair. You can read the post in its entirety there, or subscribe to get Fight to Repair content as soon as its published. 

There are very few issues these days that bring law makers and political appointees across the aisle to join hands. Certainly human tragedies like the Surfside, Florida condominium collapse, or the devastating wildfires in California and Oregon can do it. Though – even then – we find ways to quibble over the causes of the tragedy that ultimately devolve to political and ideological disputes.

That’s why it was so surprising, last week, to see the five-member Commission – split between Democrats and Republicans – come together and speak (mostly) with one voice on a policy matter that is of great importance: the right to repair. It’s all the more impressive because the right to repair pits the interests of consumers and small businesses against those of large manufacturers and corporations. That’s typically the kind of issue that exacerbates familiar divisions between the political left and right in the United States.

But no. The FTC’s vote on Wednesday commits it to “target(ing) repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” according to a Commission statement. The Commission is also urging the public to submit complaints of violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Among other things: that law prohibits tying a consumer’s product warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the FTC has issued a waiver.

Kumbaya, My Commissioner. Kumbaya!

The ruling saw appointees from both sides of the aisle signaling their opposition to exploitive, anti-repair practices. FTC Chair Lina Khan, who was appointed by President Biden as Chair of the Commission, called attention to the findings of the FTC’s own Nixing the Fix report and reporting that have documented “a whole set of practices” that limit repair “including limiting the availability of parts and tools, using exclusionary designs and product decisions that make independent repairs less safe, and making assertions of patent and trademark rights that are unlawfully over-broad.”

“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” Khan said in a written statement. (PDF)

Commissioner Chopra, another Democratic member appointed by President Trump, called attention to the COVID pandemic in a written statement (PDF) and the ways in which constrained markets for repairs had hampered everything from the availability of life-saving medical equipment to laptops and tablets needed for remote learning.