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Another Voice: Digital Fair Repair law would benefit N.Y. consumers

By Kevin Purdy

When your car’s “check engine” light turns on, you don’t have to drive your car to the dealership. Car manufacturers would love that, but thanks to existing right-to-repair laws, you can bring your car to your trusted local repair shop to find out what’s wrong at a competitive price.

It’s time for similar laws to create a level playing field for repairing electronics, farm equipment and other devices. The New York State Legislature is considering such a law in its final session.

A Digital Fair Repair law could help people get more use from products they purchased. The law would create and sustain jobs for skilled repair technicians. And it would drive price competition for repairing heavy equipment, phones and everything in between.

Right now, farmers in Western New York don’t have the benefit of a “check engine” light. Modern John Deere tractors have many electronic parts that measure and track everything.

If a part or some code malfunctions, the tractor won’t work again without verified John Deere parts, or a visit from a certified John Deere technician. John Deere charges high prices for repairs, and farmers have to wait, sometimes during harvest, for a fix.

It’s not that different for an iPhone owner. Apple doesn’t make it easy for anyone trying to save their expensive devices. Fingerprint authentication machines, cloud-based lockouts, and designs that intentionally thwart fixing are just a few obstacles Apple puts in the way of repair.

Apple, John Deere and other manufacturers have fought Right to Repair bills in 20 states in recent years. The companies’ stated aims are maintaining consistent repair quality, protecting customers from harm and preventing vaguely explained “cyber espionage.”

But what’s really at stake is what happens if one state dares to demand a level playing field.

Massachusetts is the reason that the “check engine” light on your car can be fixed by any shop. After voters there passed a ballot initiative in 2012, car makers saw a state-by-state fight in their future. They instead agreed to provide independent shops with the same diagnostic data they give dealerships, and to eventually standardize those tools across all models.

That kind of fair competition isn’t too much to ask for tractors, phones, laptops, vacuum cleaners and other consumer devices. It would save people money, create jobs and rescue more goods from the scrap heap.

You can help by letting your representatives know that the fair repair act deserves a vote this year.

Kevin Purdy of Buffalo and a writer at iFixit and volunteer with the Repair Association, an advocacy group for independent technicians and do-it-yourself repairs.

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