HOUSTON - A long-standing stalemate between manufacturers and consumers has gotten the attention of the White House, and it could mean fewer 'new purchases' when something breaks. President Biden has signed an executive order, and the Federal Trade Commission has voted unanimously, that consumers should have the Right to Repair.
Orion DeLeon is on the front line of that struggle. He's been repairing smartphones, tablets, and computers for years. His Katy store, Right 2 Repair Electronics, is a kind of rally-cry for fixing broken technology.
"It's supposed to go in the junk heap?," asks DeLeon, "That's not the way it should be."
Often though, that's the way it works, as manufacturers increasingly prevent repairs or stop support on a whole host of expensive conveniences and tools. Instead of being able to swap out a simple part, it's often tied to a bunch of other expensive parts, or completely inaccessible.
As a result, a lot of us have old phones and computers that make great paperweights, and nothing more. Even farm tractors are part of the deal, with proprietary computer controls that can only be fixed by the manufacturer.
"This movement to improve the right for you to repair is really about trying to free those restrictions so that you can go in and repair your own products," says CNET executive editor Roger Cheng. He thinks the right-to-repair argument got a huge boost from the White House and FTC, which warns manufacturers that they'll have to become more consumer-friendly, rather than regularly rendering their products obsolete.
For those in the business of trying to fix those various 'gizmos', that means fewer tricks and hacks to overcome manufacturer hurdles, in favor of straightforward repairs when we need them.
"I'm not looking for us to force them to make the processes easier," says DeLeon. "I just want them to open up the processes available, or not to be blocked, for the repairs to be done."
Some tech-manufacturer trade organizations have complained about the push, saying Right to Repair threatens their intellectual property. The FTC is undeterred, saying they'll start looking at these issues as potential anti-trust matters while working to craft legislation that directly puts more power in consumer's hands.