Americans must reclaim their right to repair • Recycling International


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A nation of tinkerers can’t afford to let manufacturers monopolise the fix-it business.

When the Apple II personal computer was shipped in 1977, it came with a detailed manual for upgrading and repairing the device. Parts were readily available from Apple Inc. (and, later, other manufacturers), and if Apple owners didn’t want to fix or upgrade at home, they could find plenty of small, competitive repair businesses to do the work for them.

That was then. These days, Apple’s products arrive sealed shut, often with proprietary screws. Service manuals, circuit-board schematics and repair parts are reserved for Apple’s technicians, shops and a handful of “authorized” partners. With no access to parts, manuals or indie repair shops, consumers pay much more to keep their devices running.

President Joe Biden’s new executive order to promote competition encourages the Federal Trade Commission to end such anti-competitive repair monopolies. It’s a contentious move. Apple and the makers of other technological products from farm tractors to 35mm cameras argue that their repair monopolies are good for consumers. But as these monopolies have grown, their toll on consumers, the environment and American productivity and innovation has risen. Biden’s recognition of a “right to repair” can help lower these costs and, at the same time, spur new kinds of growth across the economy.

Repair has always been a part of American life. The first prairie farmers had no option but to repair their own carts and plows. When mechanization came along, farmers became expert technicians — so skilled that companies often consulted them on tractor designs. During the past 15 years, as computers have been integrated into expensive farm equipment, that relationship has broken down. The handful of remaining implement manufacturers make sure that only dealerships, with specialized software tools, can diagnose problems. Those same tools are often also needed to install parts and authorise repairs.

The costs to farmers can be significant. Paying a Deere & Co dealership to plug in a computer to clear an error code on a tractor or combine can cost hundreds of…