Back in May, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report about “anti-competitive repair restrictions” in the US including concerns about Apple. Then, President Biden signed an executive order for the FTC to create new Right to Repair rules. Now that process has started with the FTC unanimously voting to approve a new policy statement that’s looking to restore “Right to Repair for small businesses, workers, consumers, and government entities.”
The Federal Trade Commission today unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. The policy statement adopted today is aimed at manufacturers’ practices that make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them. By enforcing against restrictions that violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, the Commission is taking important steps to restore the right to repair.
The FTC also reiterated its findings from its earlier report on how manufacturers preventing or limiting the right to repair hurt consumers and small businesses.
In May, the FTC released a report to Congress that concluded that manufacturers use a variety of methods—such as using adhesives that make parts difficult to replace, limiting the availability of parts and tools, or making diagnostic software unavailable—that have made consumer products harder to fix and maintain. The policy statement notes that such restrictions on repairs of devices, equipment, and other products have increased the burden on consumers and businesses. In addition, manufacturers and sellers may be restricting competition for repairs in a number of ways that might violate the law.
“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said during an open Commission meeting. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”
The newly approved FTC policy statement will “target repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” And the FTC also asked for help from the public via submitting complaints about offending companies.
Apple is likely to be one of the companies impacted by this change along with future changes that the FTC may decide on.
As we previously noted, in its May report, the FTC specifically called out Apple over its authorized independent repair program and locking hardware components to its logic boards making repairs uneconomic or sometimes impossible.
Apple has fought Right to Repair bills at the state level various times over the years with its stance usually resting on concerns around safety and security (my colleague Ben has written about the pros and cons of Apple’s tight hardware integration).
You can find the full policy statement from the FTC here.
Finally, the Commission will bring an interdisciplinary approach to this issue, using resources and expertise from throughout the agency to combat unlawful repair restrictions. The FTC will also closely coordinate with state law enforcement and policymakers to ensure compliance and to update existing law and regulation to advance the goal of open repair markets.
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