Apple Wins, Consumers Lose: Nebraska Postpones the Fair Repair Act

March 21, 2017

Nebraska has joined seven other states (Wyoming, Kansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, and Illinois) in a legal battle against Apple and other big tech companies for consumers’ rights. On March 9th, 2017, the state’s legislators met to consider a bill that would set out a consumer’s “right to repair” for electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The bill, titled the Fair Repair Act, would essentially “require manufacturers to provide manuals and diagnostic tools that would allow independent shops to fix [these] devices[.]” Manufacturers would have to do so free of charge, and they would need to make repair parts available to customers and unaffiliated repair stores for purchase at a reasonable price. Any violation of the Act would result in a Class V misdemeanor. Supporters of the bill believe that such laws would ultimately give customers broader options for fixing their phones and devices and lower prices in an expensive marketplace.
As one can imagine, Apple is not a huge proponent of the proposed bill. Apple has actively lobbied against the Act and continues to contest similar laws in other regions.

Opponents claim that these laws would expose manufacturers’ trade secrets and could lead to serious security issues for customers.

According to State Senator Brasch, Apple stated that hackers would flood the state if the bill passed. The bill would also cost companies like Apple millions of dollars in revenues for repairs by loosening their control over the repair markets. Many argue that these manufacturers’ dominance over repairs is so great that it even raises antitrust concerns. Apple’s iPhone 8 is rumored to combine the Touch ID Sensor, a component repairable only by Apple, with the smartphone’s screen. Some believe that such a change will in fact give them a monopoly on iPhone 8 repairs. Jason Koebler, a writer for Motherboard, stated that “[t]he removal of the home button would be an instant death blow to many of the roughly 15,000 independent smartphone repair companies in the United States, most of which are small businesses that work primarily on iPhones and specialize in screen replacement.” Apple currently has 1,371 authorized repair partner locations throughout the United States.
A “right to repair” is not a new concept. In 2014, New York was the first state to consider “right to repair” legislation for tech devices. Massachusetts passed a similar law in 2013 that forced automotive manufacturers to share repair and diagnostic information with car mechanics. While public debate has increased around the topic, few have been successful in passing related laws. Unfortunately, the Judiciary Committee decided to indefinitely postpone the Nebraska bill due to a lack of support and urgency. Consumers in Nebraska will have to continue their wait for more affordable smartphone repair options, but legislation is still pending elsewhere.
The full text of the proposed bill, as well as its history, can be found here.