Right to repair moves forward as President Biden prepares to sign executive order

A new executive order could open the way to make it easier to get products like smartphones fixed.

US president Joe Biden is set to sign a new executive order that aims to stop manufacturers from preventing people from repairing kit themselves or through independent repair shops. 

Whitehouse press secretary Jen Psaki flagged the executive order and its right-to-repair component at a press conference on Tuesday. 

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"As part of the President's forthcoming executive order on competition... the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will engage in a series of rulemakings to increase competition in agricultural industries to boost farmers' and ranchers' earnings, fight back against abuses of power by giant agribusiness corporations, and give farmers the right to repair their own equipment how they like," she said

The right-to-repair order, which is directed primarily at farmers and farm equipment, could also have broader implications for all consumer electronics.

That's because, as Bloomberg reports, the right-to-repair order will mention smartphone makers and defense contractors as manufacturers for potential regulation. It would lean on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce the order. 

The FTC in May released a report to Congress highlighting repair restrictions, including using glues to make parts difficult to replace, limiting spare parts, and withholding diagnostic software for repairs. The report found that there was "scant evidence to support manufacturers' justifications for repair restrictions". 

The FTC cited Pew Research that suggests repair restrictions hit some parts of society harder than others. "Black and Hispanic Americans are about twice as like as white Americans to have smartphones, but no broadband access at home. Similarly, lower-income Americans are more likely to be smartphone-dependent. This smartphone dependency makes repair restrictions on smartphones more likely to affect these communities adversely," the FTC noted in its report.   

As for the farm sector, tractor maker John Deere in February opposed efforts by Australia's competition regulator to reduce repair restrictions. US farmers have been protesting John Deer's firmware restrictions for years