Other’s opinion: ‘Fair repair’ bill allows consumers choice on repairs

Published 7:01 am Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Free Press, Mankato

The Apple smartphone you may be carrying has a host of high-tech parts, many of which can and do sometimes break. When they do, you are usually forced to take your property to an Apple store where you have to pay whatever they demand or replace your device with a new one.

Farmers’ John Deere tractors and combines costing well over $100,000 are loaded with technology to do things such as operating without a driver. The implements also have sophisticated diagnostics on them that will show an error code when it detects something amiss. Farmers or independent mechanics they might use won’t know what that code means until they call the dealership and wait for a John Deere technician to come out and tell them what’s wrong, even if it’s a minor issue farmers could deal with themselves.

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It shouldn’t be that hard, or unnecessarily costly, to fix something you own.

The situation is something the Minnesota Legislature can fix by supporting the “fair repair” legislation moving through the system.

The bill was introduced in the House last year and would require manufacturers to “make available, on fair and reasonable terms, documentation, parts, and tools, inclusive of any updates to information or embedded software, to any independent repair provider or to the owner.”

Dozens of other states are considering similar legislation.

If approved, a farmer could have the information needed to find out what the error code on their tractor is and whether they can tackle a fix or call in any mechanic of their choosing.

While most consumers may not be inclined to try and fix a stuck key on the touch screen of their phone, they would have the option of going to an independent repair shop to do it if they believe they are getting a better deal than going to the manufacturer.

Industry groups are vigorously fighting fair repair legislation wherever it comes up, hoping to protect their lucrative control over the technology you own. So far they have been successful in beating back legislation, but fair repair advocates are gaining strength as more consumer groups and farm groups lobby for the legislation.

One of the favored arguments by industry groups is that cyber security would be put at risk if third-party repair shops can fix equipment. The much exaggerated argument doesn’t hold up according to other security experts, but the scare tactic has made lawmakers in some states nervous.

Industry groups have good reason to fear having even a few states pass fair repair legislation. In 2012 Massachusetts passed a law requiring automakers to share their diagnostic software with independent repair shops. The auto industry, fearing a patchwork of similar but different bills being passed in other states, agreed to sign an agreement to abide by the Massachusetts law nationally.

The fair repair legislation in the auto industry allows consumers to shop around for the best deal on auto repairs and go to shops of their choosing. Minnesota lawmakers should ensure the same for consumer electronics, farm equipment and other technology.