By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
There’s a well-known quote, often misattributed to Gandhi, that each of us knows: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
The quote’s been debunked – but no less than Donald Trump uses it anyway.
But where on that spectrum are we, when lobbyists contrive a statement that’s so manifestly silly, we laugh at them?
I wonder whether the Mahatma ever coped with that situation – and what his response was if he did.
The silliness is of course exacerbated when they couch the concern in terms that suggest they really, really, really have our safety at heart when they’re trying to skewer pro-consumer initiatives.
Right to Repair Movement On the March
Regular readers are aware of my interest in a right to repair (see this April piece, Right to Repair Initiatives Gain Support in US , which includes links to earlier coverage.)
My interest arose over concerns that the common sustainability remain, reduce, reuse, recycle, mantra doesn’t go far enough (as I wrote in Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and…Repair). Repair is especially important, despite vociferous opposition to this movement by those producing products that include e-waste or plastics – and these are difficult to recycle. If you can repair it, you don’t have to replace it and try to recycle.
There’s also basic economic fairness issue here. Companies such as John Deere and Apple make it difficult if not impossible for purchasers to repair products that they’ve bought and paid for. Why should these companies regard purchasers as a long-term income stream, condemned to return to the company every time something goes wrong with a product?
That’s changing. Senator Elizabeth Warren has endorsed a right to repair, limited to farm equipment – obviously with an eye to Iowa’s famers. And twenty states have been considering right to repair legislation, according to US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).
California became the latest in March when State Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman introduced legislation. From her press release:
For nearly 30 years California has required that manufacturers provide access to replacement parts and service materials for electronics and appliances to authorized repairers in the state. In that time, manufacturers have captured the market, controlling where and when we repair our property, and inflating the electronic waste stream,” Eggman said. “The Right to Repair will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, creating a competitive market that will be cheaper for consumers and reduce the number of devices thrown in the trash.”
People who can’t afford the high price of manufacturer-based repair services are increasingly forced to prematurely replace durable goods, such as phones, TVs, and appliances. Repairing and reusing electronics is not only a more efficient use of the scarce materials that go into manufacturing the products, but it can also stimulate local economies instead of overseas factories.
“People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.”
So against that background, what does the Apple have to say to California?
Well, as Motherboard reported yesterday:
In recent weeks, an Apple representative and a lobbyist for CompTIA, a trade organization that represents big tech companies, have been privately meeting with legislators in California to encourage them to kill legislation that would make it easier for consumers to repair their electronics, Motherboard has learned.
According to two sources in the California State Assembly, the lobbyists have met with members of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, which is set to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon. The lobbyists brought an iPhone to the meetings and showed lawmakers and their legislative aides the internal components of the phone. The lobbyists said that if improperly disassembled, consumers who are trying to fix their own iPhone could hurt themselves by puncturing the lithium-ion battery, the sources, who Motherboard is not naming because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said.
Are they serious? Apparently.
Another popular boogeyman is the dreaded hackers in the basement. And why not? This putative monster has successfully deranged national political discourse. Given that success, why shouldn’t the tech industry try the same ploy?
Back to Motherboard:
The in-person meetings in California came a few weeks after CompTIA and 18 other trade organizations associated with big tech companies—including CTIA and the Entertainment Software Association—sent letters in opposition of the legislation to members of the Assembly’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. One copy of the letter, addressed to committee chairperson Ed Chau and obtained by Motherboard, urges the chairperson “against moving forward with this legislation.” CTIA represents wireless carriers including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, while the Entertainment Software Association represents Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and other video game manufacturers.
“With access to proprietary guides and tools, hackers can more easily circumvent security protections, harming not only the product owner but also everyone who shares their network,” the letter, obtained by Motherboard, stated. “When an electronic product breaks, consumers have a variety of repair options, including using an OEM’s [original equipment manufacturer] authorized repair network.”
Unbelievably, these arguments have prevailed – for the moment. The California bill was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday. Then it was pulled from consideration due to some of this trash talking on behalf of the tech industries. By the way, this is a common lobbying tactic – where draconian, and frankly bogus but seemingly complex and serious concerns are raised just before the buzzer’s due to sound. And then every politician who doesn’t want to act on something has ample political cover not to do so. Often delay then dooms the initiative.
The bottom line in California: the right to repair bill cannot move forward until the 2020 calendar year.
So I may mock these concerns – and the lobbyists who raised them, but for the moment, they’ve won. At least in California.
I reached out for a comment and context to Nathan Proctor, of US PIRG, Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, and he returned with an email in which disappointment is evident, but doesn’t sound defeated. I guess you need to roll with the punches if you work in the area of public interest law. He emphasizes that the movement has gained significant recent attention on the national political stage:
“Going up against some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world isn’t easy — but we’re in it for the long haul. Even as we have our setbacks, Right to Repair is growing in prominence. Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed Right to Repair for farm equipment, following by an editorial from the New York Times calling for Right to Repair for all our devices. Minnesota is gearing up for a full floor vote, and we still have other states in play.”
This California setback is the loss of a battle, not the loss of the war.