Computers and electronic devices are virtually everywhere you look. Our society is dependent on them, and sometimes they break. Repairing them can be difficult to impossible, and we waste a lot of money replacing items that could have been fixed. California has been at the forefront of the right to repair movement with the passing of SB244, a law that aims to give consumers more control over their electronic devices. The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2021, requires manufacturers of electronic devices to provide access to repair manuals, diagnostic tools, and parts to independent repair shops and consumers. I salute this law and think it’s overdue.

This law empowers consumers by giving them the right to choose where to get their devices repaired. This, in turn, promotes competition among repair shops, which leads to lower prices and better service for consumers. Additionally, it reduces electronic waste by making it easier for consumers to repair their devices rather than replacing them.

One of the key arguments for the right to repair is the issue of planned obsolescence. Manufacturers often design products with limited lifespans or make it difficult for consumers to repair them in order to encourage more frequent upgrades. Not to pick on Apple, but, take Apple for example. Their computers are closed systems. If you don’t like the size of your storage or the amount of RAM you have, go buy another computer because the one you have cannot be upgraded or altered in any way. This can be costly for consumers and harmful to the environment as e-waste continues to grow at an alarming rate. By providing access to repair manuals and parts, SB244 seeks to address this issue and promote sustainability.

There are a lot of technical people in the community would be happy to repair equipment if the information and parts were only available. Allowing access to repair manuals and parts levels the playing field and strengthens the local economy. This can also create job opportunities and encourage entrepreneurship in the repair industry. In the 1970’s, we used to buy CB Radio schematics from a company called “Sams Photofacts” and used that information to repair and sometimes modify the radios. They were excellent, and nothing like that exists now.

Not everyone is in favor of SB244 and the right to repair movement. An argument against the law is that it could compromise the security and privacy of electronic devices. To this I say piffle. We in the IT industry already working in and around important customer data, and we have codes of conduct, privacy agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and strong ethical guidelines that create a safe environment for our customers.

Working around client data isn’t new. Some manufacturers argue that providing access to repair tools and manuals could make it easier for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in the devices. This could pose a risk to consumers’ personal information and even national security. I think this is largely a red herring argument. There will absolutely be someone who figures out how to hack a device. And there are people who drink too much, and people who drive too fast. That doesn’t mean we are going to ban booze or cars, it means we act against people doing dumb or illegal things.

Another argument against the right to repair is that it could mean lower sales for companies who sell technology because people begin repairing gear instead of throwing it away and buying new devices. There is probably a small merit in this argument, but not enough to make a difference. If it means a company’s sales growth is 12.5% instead of 12.75% year over year, is that a reason to avoid all the good to people and the environment a law like this promote? It is inevitable that some manufacturers will use this as justification for increasing costs to consumers. Manufacturers claim that providing access to repair manuals and parts could add to the production costs of devices, which could be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Additionally, opponents of the right to repair argue that allowing unauthorized repairs could lead to substandard repairs that may void warranties and compromise the quality and safety of the devices. Judge for yourself.

Despite these arguments against the right to repair, many consumers and repair advocates believe that the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. The right to repair movement has gained momentum in recent years, with several states considering legislation similar to our SB244. In fact, the passage of SB244 has already had a ripple effect, with other states and countries following suit.

Ultimately, the right to repair is about giving consumers more control over their purchases and promoting a more sustainable approach to electronics. We generate SO MUCH waste. While there are legitimate concerns about security, innovation, and costs, it is clear that there is a strong demand for access to repair information and parts. As technology continues to advance, it is important for policymakers, manufacturers, and consumers to strike a balance that ensures both the right to repair and the protection of consumers and the environment.