Apple is one of a group of companies funding lobbyists to oppose a New York bill that would make it easier for third party repair shops to operate, Motherboard reports. The proposed “Fair Repair Act” requires manufacturers of digital electronics to sell diagnostic and repair information, and repair tools to the general public.
New York state lobbying records show that large tech companies and manufacturers like Apple, Verizon, Caterpillar, and Toyota who oppose the right to repair bill have spent a total of $366,634 on lobbyists between January and April of this year. On the other hand, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition– an organization comprised of small independent repair shops– has spent a total of $5,042 lobbying in support of the bill during the same timespan.
The lobbying disclosures also show that Apple has retained the services of the Roffe Group to “lobby Apple’s corporate issues, including but not limited to areas of environment, tax, and retail”, Motherboard has found. The iPhone manufacturer has paid the Roffe Group approximately $9,000 a month (not including expenses) to lobby on a number of New York bills, of which one is the Fair Repair Act.
The avowed purpose of the New York bill is to challenge “the monopolistic practices of digital electronics manufacturers”, who inflate prices and throttle the repair services marketplace by refusing to publish crucial repair information and sell parts to the public. Electronics manufacturers often go out of their way to make devices difficult to disassemble by using tools and screws specifically developed for their devices. This forces customers to turn to company-owned or authorized repair shops, to the detriment of third party mechanics. Apple’s authorized repairer program also prohibits its vendors from advertising repair services for other kinds of phones.
It’s no secret that Apple pays lobbyists to oppose digital repair bills, which have been proposed in nearly a dozen states. In March 2017, Apple sent a delegation of lobbyists to challenge another “right to repair” bill in Nebraska that would have required the company to give consumers and independent repair shops access to repair manuals and parts. The bill’s sponsor, state senator Lydia Brasch, told Buzzfeed News that Apple representative Steve Kester had paid her a visit to warn that Nebraska would become a “Mecca for bad actors” like hackers if the bill passed.
While Apple has refused to comment on its opposition to right to repair legislation or its lobbying efforts, it has publicly argued that maintaining an authorized vendor network is in the customer’s interest as it ensures that legitimate parts are used and repairs are done correctly. Opponents of right to repair also cite fears that such laws would expose the trade secrets of electronics manufacturers, and contend that maintaining an authorized repair network helps manufacturers protect their hardware platforms.
Likely in response to such concerns, the New York state bill explicitly does not require the disclosure of trade secrets and instead requires manufacturers to clarify what hardware is “legally owned by the consumer and is retained by the manufacturer”.
Proponents of right to repair legislation claim that repair restrictions are monopolistic and meant to maintain control of a highly lucrative industry worth billions of dollars a year. The lack of competition ends up limiting choice and inflating out-of-pocket repair fees for customers, supporters say. Such restrictions also pose a problem for customers living in rural communities as authorized repair shops tend to be concentrated in or around metropolitan areas. Nebraska for example has only one brick-and-mortar Apple Store and a small number of authorized service partners scattered throughout the state.
Do you agree or disagree with Apple’s position on the matter?