Device Repair in the Spotlight

Our new survey reveals strong interest in having gadgets repaired

A couple of weeks ago, President Biden signed an executive order for the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to draft new regulation that will allow consumers to repair their own devices — or use a technician of their choice. The new rules for technology manufacturers are part of a sweeping order aimed at a wide range of industries, including banking, technology, labour markets, Internet service providers and airlines. The goal is to increase competition across the US economy.

The US government wants brands such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, General Electric and Tesla to make repair manuals, tools, components and parts available, as well as proprietary software for components to work smoothly. This could also encourage manufacturers to rethink how their products are made so they’re more durable and easily repairable.

We expect owners of connected devices to welcome such a move. Our newly launched Connected Consumer Radar reveals strong interest in having connected devices repaired outside of their warranty period at a reasonable cost. Almost three in four people in our recent survey declared that they’d be interested in using this service with at least one device they own. More than 50% of laptop and desktop PC owners would like to have this option, as would 44% of mobile phone owners and 46% of virtual reality headset owners. To learn more about the main findings of our new survey see Tuning into the Connected Consumer Radar.

Interestingly, repairs are of interest to more than one in three owners of smart home gadgets like smart thermostats and smart security cameras. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as our study shows that about two in three owners of connected devices plan to use their gadgets for as long as they work rather than replace them early with new models.

In May 2021, the FTC wrote a report for US Congress that highlighted people’s “right to repair”. The report addressed the lengths that manufacturers go to, to prevent consumers from repairing items — from mobile phones to home appliances and cars. The executive order shows that companies’ restrictions on the distribution of parts, diagnostics and repair tools make repairs more expensive and time-consuming for customers.

The Biden administration views restrictions by tech companies as “anticompetitive” and urges the FTC to force companies to allow customers to use independent repair shops to fix the devices they own or repair them themselves. Manufacturers have an incentive to control the repair process, given the potential revenue from service contracts and services. Repairs also are a way for manufacturers to build a direct relationship with their customers.

The executive order is considered a significant win for right-to-repair advocate groups such as the US Public Interest Research Group and iFixit. These groups have said for years that tech consumers and large equipment buyers should have better options for repairing their devices. But it’s too early for them to celebrate. This year alone, as many as 25 US states have considered right-to-repair legislation, but this doesn’t mean the bills will be signed into law.

A few states have repair-related laws including California, Rhode Island and Indiana. Notably, Massachusetts is the only state with an official right-to-repair law for automobiles, which won the vote by a large margin in 2012 and again in 2020, despite vocal opposition from a coalition of big automakers. In 2021, the New York State Senate passed a landmark right-to-repair bill in June, and Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware are actively considering such rules.

In reality, it could take a significant amount of time for the FTC to implement these new rules, given the nature of federal bureaucracy. But third-party firms have already established themselves by taking care of some basic device repairs, and this initiative shows the Biden administration’s eagerness to curb the power of large companies.