After nearly two long years of waiting, the Federal Trade Commission released its “Nixing the Fix” report on restrictions employed by manufacturers on product repairs. Folks, it does not mince words, saying there is “scant evidence” justifying the obstacles companies put in place to limit consumers’ options when it comes to repairs.
The lengthy report initially spawned out of a 2019 FTC workshop, which then prompted Congress to call on the agency to continue its investigation into the issue. While right-to-repair advocates have been banging the drum that manufacturers have unfairly rigged the game against independent repair shops and consumers, manufacturers have retorted that the market works fine as is. The bipartisan FTC report categorically disagrees. “Although manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions,” the report concludes, “the majority are not supported by the record.”
The list of major issues highlighted by the FTC warranties is extensive. It includes:
- Warranties being routinely voided in violation of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act
- Product designs that either complicate or prevent repairs
- Parts and repair information being made unavailable
- Designs intended to make an independent repair “less safe”
- Policies designed to herd consumers toward manufacturer repair networks
- Disparaging third-party repair parts
- Software locks and firmware updates
- End-user license agreements
- Companies enforcing patent rights and trademarks as a means of shutting down independent repair
The report also notes that repair restrictions placed heavier burdens on lower-income communities and communities of color. “Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color,” the report reads. On top of harming small business owners in underserved communities, the FTC report says repair restrictions can also result in greater financial burdens for lower-income families, as they may lack broadband internet at home and therefore rely heavily on smartphones.
The FTC also highlighted that the pandemic only exacerbated these problems, as repair restrictions made it much harder for consumers to get their products fixed while working from home. Supply chain shortages mean that parts can be hard to come by, leaving customers to sometimes wait months for appliance repairs. Likewise, requiring customers to go through authorized repair facilities means that many have had to wait weeks for broken computers or other work-related gadgets—a situation that’s untenable during the work-from-home and remote learning era.
As far as tech companies go, Apple had the dubious honor of being held up as a specific example of a company guilty of restrictive repair policies. If you’ve been following the news, this won’t come as a shock. Apple has historically been hostile to independent repair shops and prefers its customers go to a pre-approved list of authorized repair vendors. The Cupertino giant is also guilty of restricting access to repair manuals and famously had that debacle with iPhone throttling in a bid to preserve battery life.
As for what to do about the current situation, the report concludes with several suggestions ranging from new legislation, strengthening the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, self-regulation like the auto industry, transparent repairability scores for products, and taking some cues from the European Union, which last year decreed that manufacturers would have to make household appliances both longer-lasting and easier to repair. The FTC also urged consumers to report manufacturers who void warranties because of independent repairs in a release and on its Twitter.
“This is a great step in the right direction,” iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens said in a statement. “The bipartisan report shows that [the] FTC knows that the market has not regulated itself, and is committing to real action.”