Trying to be thrifty — by repairing rather than replacing a broken smartphone or other electronic device — can get expensive.
Break a screen on your iPhone X — unless you broke down and got the AppleCare plan — could cost you about $280; other repairs can cost $550. Need a new battery for an older iPhone? Apple’s special deal for $29 battery replacement — offered after it admitted it was throttling processor speed on phones with older batteries — expired at the start of the year. You’ll spend $79 to replace a battery now.
There are independent shops that will charge less, or would, if they could get the parts and information necessary to make the repairs. Many of those shops say that — even when they have certification or authorization through a specific manufacturer — they have difficulty getting the parts, diagnostic tools and schematics necessary to make those repairs.
“Right to repair” legislation in the state House (HB 1342) could open up that avenue to more affordable repairs. Among the bills sponsors are 1st District Reps. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, and Derek Stanford, D-Bothell.
The legislation, which had its first hearing Tuesday before the Innovation, Technology and Economic Development Committee, would require electronics manufacturers to make parts, information and tools available to independent repair shops and do so without requiring the purchase of proprietary information for the repair of phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices. The bill is similar in intent to “right to repair” legislation and a citizens’ initiative passed in Massachusetts in 2012 regarding automotive repair. That legislation, which took effect last year after a six-year grace period has now generally been adopted by the automotive industry nationwide.
And the idea is similar here, developing standards that electronics manufacturers would adopt nationwide to meet Washington state’s standards, although 20 other states, including Oregon, are considering similar legislation.
Among those testifying Tuesday was the owner of a repair shop in Olympia who said she recently had a customer bring a tablet in that stopped working two days after the warranty expired. The shop was able to diagnose the problem and could have fixed the tablet for $150 but didn’t have legal access to schematics that were necessary to make the repair. Instead of fixing it for $150 the shop owner had to refer the customer to the dealer, which repaired the tablet for $600.
Manufacturers and others objected to the legislation during Tuesday’s hearing, raising concerns for consumer safety and the potential for software piracy and theft of personal data. One safety concern rises from the lithium-ion batteries common to electronic devices, which can cause fires if not properly installed. Authorized repair shops, opponents testified, allow manufacturers tighter control of safety standards and assurances against data theft.
The legislation, however, might help drive shadier repair shops — who use gray-market parts and schematics and are not as careful or trustworthy — out of business by assisting the good actors among independent shops.
There’s opportunity to make sure independent repair businesses adhere to requirements for safety and protection of personal data and software. Toward that end, Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, who has been a legislative leader on data privacy and technology issues, asked for more information on how the data protection standards for authorized repair outlets might be required of independent shops.
Beyond the possibility of cheaper repairs — and some competition that might put pressure on manufacturers to make repair prices more reasonable — the bill also would encourage more people to keep devices longer, minimizing the stream of electronic waste from an estimated 150 million phones discarded in the U.S. each year.
Washington state has made itself a model for safe and environmentally conscious recycling of electronic wastes. But even the best processes still leave heavy metals and other toxic materials to deal with. The fewer electronics disposed of, the better.
As Massachusetts has been for a right to repair motor vehicles, Washington can be a leader for a right to repair smartphones and other electronic devices.