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FTC to devote more attention to right to repair

Less than two weeks after President Biden called for federal agencies to encourage competition, the Federal Trade Commission voted, 5-0, on Wednesday to “ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions” that limit the rights of consumers and small businesses to fix the products they purchase. The commission adopted a policy statement to devote more enforcement resources to the right to repair.

The FTC said it would consider seeking injunctions against unfair restrictions on repairs, examine whether repair restrictions violate antitrust laws, and assess whether the restrictions amount to unfair practices. “The FTC will also closely cooperate with state law enforcement and policymakers to ensure compliance and to update existing laws and regulation to advance the goal of open repair markets,” said the statement of policy.

In agriculture, right-to-repair advocates say manufacturers prevent farmers from repairing tractors or other sophisticated equipment. Machinery manufacturers say they block changes to the software that controls tractors because it prevents damage to the equipment. Less than 2% of tractor repairs require a software update, says Deere, the world’s largest farm equipment maker.

In a report to Congress in May, the FTC said manufacturers use a variety of methods that make it harder for consumers to fix and maintain equipment they have purchased. The methods include sealing devices with glue to prevent consumer access and limiting the availability of parts, diagnostic software, repair manuals, and tools that could be used to make repairs. They may also use unjustified software locks and aggressively assert patent rights.

“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” said FTC chair Lina Khan.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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