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FTC Prepares for the ‘Nixing the Fix’ Workshop

By Craig Boswell, President, HOBI International

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be hosting a workshop July 16 called Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions, that will examine the ways manufacturers limit repairs by end users and independent repair shops and how those limitations impact consumer protection.

In particular, the FTC said it will be looking into whether manufacturers that limit or restrict the ability to repair equipment are violating the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a 1975 law that outlines the obligations companies have to explain and uphold their warranties and the legal rights customers have. The announcement lists covered topics, including the impact of repair restrictions on extended warranties and service agreements; the types of repair reductions in the United States and the extent to which these restrictions are used; and consumers’ understanding about the existence and effects of repair restrictions, among other subjects.

In March, the FTC sought empirical research and data submissions to assist FTC staff in framing the issues for the workshop. Representatives of various industries came forward to share their data on the widespread effects of repair restrictions.

Research submitted by Aaron Lowe, senior vice president of Auto Care Association, a business that functions independent of vehicle manufacturers, examined the necessary existence of a competitive repair industry. The representative comments, “The government needs to play a role, not only in enforcing current statutes developed to protect consumers from anti-competitive tactics, but also to examine how current and evolving technology is changing the dynamics of the repair industry and what additional action is needed to ensure competition for consumers.”

Data submitted by Brian Tyminski, owner of Compressed Gas Systems, a small business in the aviation repair industry, discusses the repair restriction challenges faced by a disparity in the enforcement of aviation safety regulations and says, “Our company and other small businesses face unnecessary administrative and financial burdens and significant loss of business opportunities. We are hoping the FTC will be our voice for the modification of these laws for my company and the significant amount of aviation repair stations that contribute to our economy.”

The ability for citizens to repair and modify their own hardware has become a big issue in recent years as vendors have increasingly used manufacturing techniques and casing materials that make it more or less impossible for anyone who doesn’t have the vendor’s own specialized equipment to open up and repair their phones, tablets and other gadgets. Large name brands like Apple and Microsoft have increasingly added to this precaution, which causes consumers to suffer. However, the FTC is looking to address and change this.

Proponents of the “right to repair” movement have argued that not allowing consumers and independent repair shops to fix equipment, without voiding the warranty, is a violation of warranty laws and consumer rights. While the smartphone, tablet, and PC markets have largely been the focus of right-to-repair campaigns, other groups, such as farmers, who want to repair their own tractors, have also emerged to support right-to-repair protections.

While the April 30, 2019 deadline has passed for the data submission, the portal for research submission will remain open until September 16. Currently, the FTC is seeking comments from the public on issues related to manufacturers’ repair restrictions. Comments may be filed until September 16, 2019, electronically or in written form. The public may also submit suggestions on potential workshop participants to nixingthefix@ftc.gov.

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