Digital Right to Repair Coalition warns repair monopolies are pervasive and unavoidable

Repair.org said it is concerning that it is no longer possible to avoid repair monopolies.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Digital Right to Repair Coalition, also known as Repair.org, has raised concerns that repair monopolies for high-tech equipment have become the norm.

"It has been our experience since 2010 -- as reported by our members in their daily work -- that the vast majority of technology-enabled new products available today are repair-monopolised. We know this because our members are part of the worldwide network of technology repair businesses that support OEMs and independents alike," Repair.org executive director Gay Gordon-Byrne stated in a submission [PDF] to the Australian Productivity Commission.

"Repair monopolised products now include nearly all cell phones and internet communications equipment, all consumer electronics including all TVs, IOT devices, and home appliances … repair monopolies are so pervasive that for many categories of equipment, it is no longer possible to avoid monopolies through better product selection.

"Competition for repair outside of the OEM no longer exists other than for a few very commoditised products such as laptops and desktops built using open-source software and commodity parts … one can either fix the things that belong to them, or one cannot."

Meanwhile, the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP) has cautioned the Productivity Commission that while using GPS trackers would be a practical solution to ensure that collected e-waste ends up at the intended recycling facility, existing surveillance legislation needed to also be considered.

In releasing its draft report as part of its inquiry into the right to repair, the Productivity Commission recommended that GPS trackers be used to monitor the way e-waste is collected for recycling.

As a response, the ANZRP wrote in its submission that while it supports the use of GPS trackers, there are some compliance and assurance procedure challenges that the Productivity Commission would need to first overcome.

"The usage of GPS tracking devices is subject to surveillance legislation in some states. Whilst the exact legislation varies by state, the use of surveillance devices to intentionally track and record employee activity is an offence unless the operator of the system has the consent of all parties to the activity. Only South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania do not have regulations applicable to the use of GPS tracking devices," ANZRP said in its submission [PDF].

"To meet these regulations, ANZRP has notified all of its recycling partners that e-waste delivered to them by ANZRP may contain GPS tracking devices via an executed ANZRP Recycling Services Agreement.

"ANZRP also notifies logistics providers and their specific drivers when they are in possession of a GPS tracking device. ANZRP's main logistics provider in metro area has surveillance mapping systems built into its trucks that their drivers are aware of and have consented to."

At the same time, not all e-waste products can be fitted with GPS trackers given the size of these trackers, ANZRP said, pointing out laptops as an example.  

It also noted that regulators of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) has no jurisdiction over collection sites, transporters, or recyclers under the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act and NTCRS Rules, and therefore would not be able to use GPS trackers in states and territories that are subject to surveillance legislation.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Centre for A Waste-Free World's recommendation is that if consumer right to repair legislation were to be mandated, its purpose should support access to repair supplies to help prolong the use of purchased products.

The QUT research centre clarified these repair supplies should include digital materials, such as software updates.

"Currently the draft report does not address the lack of supportive software updates provided by manufacturers for older products. This includes the ability for consumers to reverse mobile updates reserved for the newer models that are downloaded and subsequently adversely affect operating systems of that product (planned obsolescence)," it highlighted in its submission [PDF]

"It is noted that a proposal was suggested for extending consumer guarantees covering software updates, but that this currently does not form the basis of the recommendations made by the commission. It is recommended that this be re-examined and addressed, especially with the prevalence and central function of software (including updates) to the function of consumer products in today's market."

The Productivity Commission is due to present its final report on the right to repair to government on 29 October 2021. 


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