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FTC says it will enforce ‘right to repair’

The agency says preventing consumers from repairing products violates antitrust law

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Photo (c) MirageC - Getty Images
When a product breaks, even Democrats and Republicans agree that consumers have a right to repair it. 

In a unanimous vote, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it will increase enforcement actions against companies that prevent the owner of a product from repairing it in the easiest and most cost-effective way possible.

The move is aimed at countering widespread industry practices that require defective products to be repaired by the manufacturer or to be discarded and replaced. The agency said the practice not only harms consumers but also prevents small businesses, workers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. 

The FTC says no legislation or executive orders are necessary. It said it will enforce existing rules against restrictions that “violate antitrust or consumer protection laws.”

Specifically, the FTC said the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits, among other things, tying a consumer’s product warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the FTC has issued a waiver.

Products have become harder to fix

Earlier this year, the FTC sent a report to Congress explaining how manufacturers use a variety of methods -- such as using adhesives that make parts difficult to replace, limiting the availability of parts and tools, or making diagnostic software unavailable -- that make repairs unnecessarily complicated.

“Many consumer products have become harder to fix and maintain,” the authors wrote. “Repairs today often require specialized tools, difficult-to-obtain parts, and access to proprietary diagnostic software. Consumers whose products break then have limited choices.” 

Raising costs for consumers

The FTC says these restrictions have been costly for consumers and small businesses. The agency’s policy statement notes that such restrictions may be restricting competition for repairs in a number of ways that might violate the law.

“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,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said during an open Commission meeting. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”

The five FTC commissioners were in agreement. All three Democrats and the two Republicans on the commission voted in favor of backing the concept of “right to repair.”

The White House is also on board. Earlier this month, President Biden directed the FTC to take action on the issue, noting that efforts to help consumers in this area have repeatedly been blocked.

The agency said it would target repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The agency is also asking consumers to let it know when they encounter roadblocks to repairing a product they have purchased.

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