A Pennsylvania lawmaker unveiled a bill Wednesday that would make it cheaper and possibly easier for consumers and businesses to fix their electronic devices, including hospitals that may need to repair ventilators.
The legislation, introduced by State Rep. Austin Davis (D., Alleghany), would force manufacturers to give buyers the software, parts, and instructions needed to safely repair their devices. That would allow consumers to fix cracked smartphone screens or other busted equipment without needing to take it to a manufacturer that may charge more than an independent technician.
The Pennsylvania bill is part of a nationwide effort to give consumers more choice in fixing the equipment they own, but proponents argue the issue is more important amid the coronavirus pandemic. Advocates said Wednesday that some ventilator manufacturers withhold repair manuals from health-care providers, though it’s unclear whether that’s been an issue for hospitals using ventilators to keep coronavirus patients alive. Some manufacturers have already changed their repair policies due to the pandemic.
“House Bill 2326 would not only give the power back to consumers, but it also has the potential to save lives,” Davis told reporters Wednesday.
Consumers and businesses have little choice but to return to manufacturers for almost any fix, because they are often the only ones with the tools and knowledge to properly repair the equipment. Advocates say this gives manufacturers such as Apple and Microsoft a monopoly on servicing their devices, as consumers can’t get them repaired for less by a third-party technician.
The Pennsylvania bill is being supported by local repair shops, hospital groups, and farmers, who said tractor manufacturers can currently charge them high fees for simple fixes.
“Limited access to repair costs consumers, hurts independent businesses, and threatens farmers’ success,” said Emma Horst-Martz, campaign associate for Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a consumer advocate.
Two trade groups that have opposed right-to-repair legislation in other states — the Consumer Technology Association and the Information Technology Industry Council — did not return requests for comment.
Last week, Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella joined four other state treasurers in calling on ventilator manufacturers to release repair manuals, noting the nationwide shortages of the devices. They said rural and needier hospitals could be especially affected, as they may be more likely to use secondhand equipment without a maintenance contract, or have access to a service technician with the manufacturer’s repair information.
“We are in a public-health emergency where every second is vital,” they wrote in a letter dated April 14. “In some instances, service contracts have forced hospitals to wait more than a week for a manufacturer’s technician to service equipment.”
GE Healthcare said it will provide access to ventilator manuals during the pandemic without the four-day in-person training that it usually requires. Another ventilator maker, Medtronic, is releasing its manuals and providing access to certain part design files, according to U.S. PIRG.
More than 20 states considered similar “right to repair” bills in 2019, according to PennPIRG. Massachusetts is the only state with a law on the books, but it applies only to automobiles.