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This story is part of a new Prospect series called Rollups, looking at obscure markets that have been rolled up by under-the-radar monopolies. If you know of a rollup like this, contact us at rollups(at)prospect.org.
One of the more successful Biden administration initiatives has involved the right-to-repair movement. The president made it a priority in last July’s executive order on competition, directing the Federal Trade Commission to write regulations preventing companies from blocking customers from repairing their own equipment. That same month, in a unanimous 5-0 vote, the FTC approved a policy statement that classified repair restrictions as violations of antitrust and consumer protection laws, and vowed to enforce that new policy.
The policy statement was quicker than a laborious rulemaking process, and it bore fruit. Last October, Microsoft, in a reversal of policy, agreed to grant access to parts and tools for third-party and customer repair. A month later, Apple did the same thing. It was remarkable to see large companies with serious market power change their long-standing opposition to right to repair after regulators signaled action.
But one major manufacturer has not budged. John Deere, the 180-year-old maker of tractors and other agricultural equipment, still requires proprietary software and tools to complete any repair, forcing farmers to use its authorized dealers and technicians. Since the federal crackdown, the corporation (which is formally known as Deere & Co.) has resisted shareholder proposals, fought legislation at the state and federal level, and is currently embroiled in several antitrust lawsuits with customers.
In just the past few weeks, North Dakota–based Forest River Farms and Alabama cattle farmer Trinity Dale Wells both filed suit against Deere. Wells says that a sensor wire on his tractor malfunctioned when it got wet, requiring the software to be adjusted. The repair took less than three minutes with a part that didn’t even need to be replaced, just wiped off, yet it cost $600.
The similarities in the cases suggest a class action is brewing. “Deere is in serious trouble,” said Nathan Proctor, senior director of the…