Oregon Considers “Right To Repair” Bill- Big Tech Firms Have Contrary Responses

A bill set to make it cheaper and easier for consumers to fix their devices is being considered by Oregon lawmakers. But big tech phone manufacturers Apple and Google are sitting on different sides of the fence when it comes to support for the bill.

Senate Bill 1596- the so-called “right to repair” bill, sets out mechanisms that seek to address repairs of increasingly complex devices where tools and technical expertise are limited to a select group of technicians, potentially making repairs more expensive. The bill would see device makers offering technical documents and specialty tools needed to fix broken phones, laptops, and appliances available to tech-minded device owners and small repair shops.

A Hillsboro Democrat- Sen. Janeen Sollman, has been advocating for the policy since 2021. She said, “The right to repair is about lowering costs for hardworking Oregonians.”

Sollman believes that enabling more widespread access to repairs will help consumers reduce costs, and cut back on unnecessary waste with people keeping their devices for longer. Small businesses could also benefit by offering repair services.

California, Colorado, Minnesota, and New York have passed right-to-repair bills in recent years. The current Oregon bill is the fourth time that lawmakers have taken on the issue since 2019, but with Google- a key ally, on board this year,  advocates believe that this year’s bill has a better shot at passing.


Apple Not Yet On Board With Bill 1596

Google and Apple- two major suppliers of smartphones are on different sides of Bill 1596. Apple has yet to indicate support for SB 1596, despite backing a similar law that was passed in California last year. SB 1596 supporters think that the key reason is the issue of parts pairing software raised in the bill. This essential element ensures that phones and other devices only operate correctly if they are repaired with parts approved by the manufacturer.

CEO of the website iFixit- Kyle Wiens, attended the January hearing and explained the example of two brand new identical Apple iPhones. He indicated that even by simply swapping identical screens, neither phone operated correctly. This is because of Apple’s limitation requiring that only components with a specific digital signature could work seamlessly with an individual device. A November New York Times investigation showed that 7 of the parts on new iPhones could create issues during repairs. Only three had been identified in 2017.

Wiems confirmed that parts pairing software is not unique to Apple and has also appeared in video game consoles and chainsaws. If adopted, SB 1596 supporters say that Oregon would be the first state to regulate this practice. The director of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and an author of the legislation- Charlie Fisher,  called the parts-pairing element “the one place where we would be more pro-consumer and better than Californian law.”

Tuesday’s hearing focused on the proposed regulations on parts pairing, and Sollman indicated that Apple had declined to testify in public about its concerns, and also did not participate in a roundtable with advocates and other manufacturers. It appears that the parts pairing element may have Apple working behind the scenes- to defeat or alter the bill.

Sollman said that Apple executives have been meeting in private with individual lawmakers. Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, a member of the Senate committee taking up the issue, confirmed during the hearing that Apple had requested a private meeting that was now set for Wednesday.

Apple told The New York Times last year that it supports its customers’ right to repair their own products, and is one of the tech companies that paid for a group of lawmakers to travel to California to tour its headquarters in February. EBay and Google also helped fund what lawmakers called a fact-finding mission and were also scheduled for inspection visits.

In the January hearing, Google’s representative testified that they see the current bill as an inclusive compromise, and already strive to make repairs of its Pixel phones accessible.


SB 1596 Penalties

Manufacturers that refuse to make their repair processes and tools available could be sued by the Oregon attorney general and face fines of up to $1,000 a day under the bill. Changes have been made to address concerns that surfaced in a similar bill that failed last year, including language that better protects the intellectual property of device makers and addresses security concerns. The new bill also eliminates the provision that would have allowed consumers to sue manufacturers. The attorney general would take care of enforcement.


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