Federal Trade Commission to ramp up enforcement to restore right to repair

The Federal Trade Commission has unanimously agreed to adopt a policy statement that will target illegal repair restrictions.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it has unanimously voted to crack down on illegal repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and government entities from fixing their own products.

The FTC said it has adopted a policy statement aimed at manufacturers' practices, which it claimed "make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them".

The commission voted 5-0 to approve the policy statement during an open commission meeting on Wednesday.

In the policy statement [PDF], the commission said it would target repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act's prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices. 

"While unlawful repair restrictions have generally not been an enforcement priority for the commission for a number of years, the commission has determined that it will devote more enforcement resources to combat these practices," it stated.

"Accordingly, the commission will now prioritise investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act."

The commission also urged the public to submit complaints of violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which prohibits, among other things, tying a consumer's product warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the FTC has issued a waiver.

It added that the commission would also monitor private legal action to determine if there are patterns of unfair or deceptive acts or practices by a manufacturer.

"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," FTC Chair Lina Khan said during the meeting.

"The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today's policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigour."

The move comes a week after United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at promoting competition across numerous sectors, including online platforms and consumer devices. The order also pushed for better regulation for independent tech repair shops.

Under the executive order, FTC is also encouraged "to issue rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment".

Right to repair has become a global movement. New rules were recently introduced to allow certain electrical goods sold across Europe to be repairable for up to 10 years. These included all new washing machines, hairdryers, refrigerators, and displays -- including televisions.

In Australia, an inquiry into the right to repair is currently underway.

Earlier this week as part of the inquiry, iFixit co-founder and CEO Kyle Wiens exposed how companies including Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft manipulate the design of their products and the supply chain to prevent consumers and third-party repairers from accessing necessary tools and parts to repair products such as smartphones and laptops.

"We've seen manufacturers restrict our ability to buy parts. There's a German battery manufacturer named Varta that sells batteries to a wide variety of companies. Samsung happens to use these batteries in their Galaxy earbuds … but when we go to Varta and say can we buy that part as a repair part, they'll say 'No, our contract with Samsung will not allow us to sell that'. We're seeing that increasingly," he said, drawing on some specific examples.

"Apple is notorious for doing this with the chips in their computers. There's a particular charging chip on the MacBook Pro … there is a standard version of the part and then there's the Apple version of the part that sits very slightly tweaked, but it's tweaked enough that it's only required to work in this computer, and that company again is under contractual requirement with Apple."


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