Apple backs Biden’s push for right-to-repair law

By Andrea Shalal, Stephen Nellis and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Apple, the world’s largest tech company, said on Tuesday that it will back a U.S. right-to-repair bill, following years of complaints from consumer advocates that its sleek devices are difficult and expensive to fix.

The announcement is part of a broader push by President Joe Biden to promote competition and crack down on so-called junk fees and other actions that increase prices for consumers.

Apple also on Tuesday said it would make parts, tools and documentation needed to fix its iPhones and computers available to independent repair shops and consumers nationwide, a move that could help push other companies to follow suit.

Restrictive practices used across industry raised costs for consumers, stifled innovation, closed off business opportunities for independent repair shops and created unnecessary electronic waste, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan said.

“We’ve heard from health care workers and hospitals worried that they would be unable to fix a ventilator because the manufacturer was seeking to deny access to repair it,” Khan said.

Apple’s decision to back federal legislation and allow independent repair shops to fix its products is part of a years-long shift toward touting the longevity and resale value of its devices while making it easier to fix them and to access spare parts.

The company started distributing parts and manuals to some independent repair shops in 2019. In August, Apple backed right-to-repair legislation in its home state of California, which requires firms to give repair shops and consumers access to parts, tools and manuals needed for repairs – at fair and reasonable prices.

“We intend to honor California’s new repair provisions across the United States,” Brian Naumann, Apple’s vice president for service and operations, told the White House event. “Apple also believes that consumers and businesses would benefit from a national law that balances repairability with product integrity, usability, and physical safety.”

National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard hailed Apple’s decision and called on Congress to pass national legislation. California, Colorado, New York and Minnesota have already passed their own right to repair laws. Thirty other states have introduced similar legislation.

Brainard said commitments from private companies like Apple could lower costs for consumers and keep unnecessary waste out of landfills.

Repairing consumer electronics devices could save American consumers $49.6 billion annually, Brainard said, and reduce the U.S.’s nearly 7 million tons of annual electronic waste, while boosting small independent repair shops.

While Apple has provided spare parts to repair shops since 2019, the California bill also requires it to supply diagnostic tools. Apple said it plans to follow the same model nationally as it does in California.

But some consumer advocates reacted to Tuesday’s news with reservations because Apple’s embrace of repairs in the past has often come with caveats.

Nathan Proctor, who leads right-to-repair campaign efforts for advocacy group called U.S. PIRG, said his group will follow the details of any federal legislation that emerges.

“It’s really going to depend on people’s experience in the real world – that’s what we care about,” Proctor said. “We’re going to keep watch-dogging Apple and the other companies.”

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)