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New York governor signs diluted right of repair bill

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Nearly seven months after the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a right to repair bill, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed it into law. But Hochul only gave the green light to the bill after the legislature agreed to some changes. Hochul wrote in a memo that the legislation, as originally drafted, “included technical issues that could jeopardize safety and security, as well as increase the risk of injury in physical repair projects.” The governor said the amendments address those issues, but critics say the amendments will weaken the law’s effectiveness.

“This legislation would increase consumer options in repair markets by granting them greater access to the parts, tools and documents needed for repairs,” Hochul wrote. “Encouraging consumers to maximize the life of their devices through repairs is a laudable goal for saving money and reducing e-waste.”

The changes remove the bill’s requirement for “original equipment manufacturers [or OEMs] to provide the public with any passwords, security codes, or materials to replace the security features.” OEMs may also group together “parts assemblies” rather than just the specific component actually needed for a DIY repair if “the risk of improper installation increase the risk of injury.”

The rules will only apply to devices originally built and used or sold in New York for the first time after July 1. There is also an exemption for “digital products that are the subject of business-to-business or business-to-government sales and are not otherwise offered for sale by retailers.”

Like Ars Technica reported earlier this month, Microsoft and Apple representatives have lobbied Hochul’s office for changes. So did the industry association TechNet, which represents many notable technology companies, including Amazon, Google, Dell, HP and Engadget’s parent Yahoo.

As a result, the bill’s revised wording excludes corporate electronics, such as those that schools, hospitals, universities and data centers depend on, as iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens wrote in a blog post. Home appliances, motor vehicles, medical devices and off-road equipment were previously exempt.

“Such changes could limit the benefits for school computers and most products currently in use,” the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), a collective of consumer rights organizations, said in a statement to Engadget. “Even more concerning, the bill now excludes certain smartphone circuit boards from parts that manufacturers are required to sell and requires repair shops to post heavy warranty language.”

“We knew it was going to be tough going up against the biggest, richest companies in the world,” said Nathan Proctor, PIRG’s director of repairs. “But, although scaled down, a new Right to Fix law was signed. Now our job continues to be to strengthen that law and pass new ones until people have what they need to fix their stuff.”

Like The Verge notes, repairman and right-to-repair advocate Louis Rossmann said the changes weakened the law to the point of rendering it “functionally useless.” Rossmann, who spent seven years trying to pass the bill, called Hochul’s assertion that the changes were necessary to include protections against physical harm and security risks “bullshit”, citing a Federal Trade Commission report on the matter.

The Right to Fix movement has gained momentum over the last couple of years. Before the expected legislation took effect, companies like Google, Apple, Samsung and Valve began providing repair manuals and selling parts for some of their products.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at bolstering competition in the US, including in the tech industry. Among other measures, he called on the FTC to prohibit “anti-competitive restrictions on the use of independent repair shops or DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.”

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