Report: Right to Repair Laws Undermine Consumer Interests, Raise Security Concerns

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Should consumers have the legal right to repair their own stuff? A new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute discusses repair rights consumers have already with respect to personal electronic devices and why state or federal laws micromanaging the process would do more to undermine consumers than help them fix broken gadgets.

“Right to repair bills threaten to break the existing repair market for electronics, leading to higher prices, lower quality products, and less innovation,” said Alex Reinauer, CEI Research Fellow and author of the report, Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right to Repair: How State “Right to Repair” Legislation Harms Consumers and Innovation.

For example, instead of sending a broken device back to the original equipment manufacturer for repair, consumers regularly take cracked smartphone screens to independent, after-market repair shops. The electronic and computer repair industry is currently estimated to be worth $20 billion, with over 48,000 businesses in the U.S., mostly small businesses.

Alternately, consumers often opt to simply replace their broken device entirely. A Consumer Reports survey found that over half of people would rather upgrade to a new device than have their old device repaired.

But government laws would upend that existing process, mandating equipment manufacturers sell documentation, parts, and tools to independent repair providers. “For manufacturers, compliance with the legislation will bring increased manufacturing and production costs, and that will mean higher prices for consumers,” said Reinauer.

Perhaps most troubling, right to repair laws would also mandate that manufacturers give third-party repairers tools for disabling embedded security locks.

The report also delves into other major drawbacks with right to repair laws. For example, such laws will influence how manufacturers design devices, pressuring them to:

  • make devices more standard than innovative;
  • omit product features that require digitization;
  • prioritize ease of repair designs over other features consumers value such as water resistance or damage-resistance.

“Repairability is just one consideration consumers make when purchasing a device – and may be far from the most important one,” Reinauer explained.

The report tracks right to repair bills with a state-by-state chart of bills introduced in legislatures.