NY tech device repair bill shrank under lobbyists’ influence

ALBANY – A week before his June wedding, Javell Brown went to the gym, pushing himself extra hard before his big day. But his iPhone took the hit: It slipped from his pocket and smashed under the weight of a 70-pound dumbbell. He flipped.

“I couldn’t do a single thing. Couldn’t reach out to anybody,” the Schenectady resident said. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”

Brown’s smartphone is among the microchip-powered devices contemplated in New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act, a bill the Legislature passed this spring targeting consumers’ “right to repair” the devices they own.

The bill would mandate that companies supply materials, tools and instructions at a reasonable cost to allow consumers and repair shops to fix electronic devices powered by microchips.

But while earlier drafts covered items ranging from tractors and lawn mowers to gaming consoles and microwaves, a burst of end-of-session lobbying from companies worth billions and their affiliated trade associations pressed legislators to whittle it down until limited to devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Insiders told the Times Union that lobbyists realized late in the legislative session that the bill, which had been introduced each year for about a decade, had a good chance of passing in the Senate — where it ended up going through even before the Assembly — something they had previously thought unlikely. So they rushed to make themselves heard.

“All hell broke loose. Opposition came out of the woodwork and I had to deal with it, because (otherwise) the bill was dead, when you have that much opposition,” said Patricia Fahy, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “When session is ending, the clock works against you in a huge way. It’s much easier to have it fall apart, and that’s where lobbyists can be very, very powerful.”

Fahy was adamant about passing a bill that at least required smartphone manufacturers and the like to provide customers and third-party repair shops access to the diagnostic tools and parts needed to repair broken devices. So her team and colleagues wrote enough carve-outs for other skittish…