It’s not every day the former governor of your state shows up to testify against your bill. But that’s what happened in Colorado earlier this month at the state’s Right to Repair bill hearing.
“We were already working to counter lobbying from Google and large trade associations representing Apple and Microsoft,” said CoPIRG Advocate Allison Conwell, who organized supporters of the bill. “It’s pretty incredible the array of people coming out to support the bill — local computer manufacturers, repair shops, disability advocates, Zero Waste advocates and more. But it’s pretty clear that this is going to take a big effort when you look at who’s across the table.”
Facing powerful opponents is par for the course in our campaign to pass Right to Repair legislation in states across the country. And while both public and legislative support for this issue continues to grow, our opposition is digging in their heels.
When Washington state Rep. Mia Gregerson introduced a Right to Repair bill, HB1212, in 2021, she knew it had faced roadblocks in the past. In 2019, then-state Rep. Jeff Morris said that he heard that Microsoft offered to pay more in taxes to fund STEM education in the state if Right to Repair never went to a floor vote.
“Right to Repair is a bipartisan, pro-small business, pro-environment, pro-people bill,” Gregerson told me. “Since there is so much to gain from this bill, I’m okay with a little opposition from tech companies and trade associations. We’re fighting the good fight.” Unfortunately, HB1212 stalled in committee, but not for a lack of support from Washingtonians.
Goliath times 5
Power and money has influence in politics, and while the Right to Repair should not be a political issue, power and money affect it as well. Right to Repair is about fixing our stuff and using it for longer — a mission antithetical to the business model of those who make electronics and want to sell millions of them, or push consumers into high-priced repairs.
It’s David versus Goliath times five: the tech giants Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook all have recently lobbied on Right to Repair legislation to differing extents, as you can see in the chart below. Facebook listed the New York bill as something they lobbied on in 2018, but has been quieter than the other four.
Companies that contribute to lobbying efforts against Right to Repair are cumulatively worth about $10.7 trillion. They include Tesla, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Lilly Inc., T-Mobile, Medtronic, Caterpillar, John Deere, General Electric, Philips, eBay, plus the big five. To reach this estimate, we totaled up the estimated market cap for each company, or the estimated total value of all their traded shares.
While publicly, most of the opposition comes from generic sounding trade groups such as TechNet and Repair Done Right Coalition (which doesn’t list its members), sometimes we hear directly from the global brands. For example, in 2017, an Apple representative told Nebraskan lawmakers that Right to Repair reforms would turn the state into a “mecca for hackers.” A John Deere executive argued in a magazine interview that if farmers had the Right to Repair, they would tamper with the emission settings, a violation of EPA laws, and wreak environmental disaster.
Sometimes money speaks louder than words, and electronics manufacturers spend a lot of it fighting Right to Repair laws. For example, General Electric, which makes medical equipment and appliances, spent more than $200,000 total in the spring and fall of 2018 to defeat the Right to Repair bill in New York state — and that’s only one year, one state, and one company.
In addition to eating into service revenues by bringing more competition to repair markets, Right to Repair poses a challenge to the business model based on disposability: buy, throw away, and buy again. About two-thirds of Apple’s revenue comes from new iPhone sales, and Wall Street judges the company’s worth on those numbers.
In the opposite corner …
The supporters of Right to Repair, meanwhile, aren’t getting rich off their work. Free Geek, headquartered in Portland, both saves tech from going to the landfill and redistributes devices to families in need at low or no cost. Homeboy Electronics recycles 1.3 million pounds of electronics per year and offers people who have experienced incarceration or drug addictions career paths, which Tech Dump does as well. Markevis Gideon, owner of NERDiT Now in Wilmington, Delaware, supports Right to Repair to grow his local business and donate more technology to underserved communities. A 17-year-old business owner, Sam Mencimer in Maryland, is tired of turning away customers who he could help otherwise due to barriers to repair.
Other proponents of Right to Repair have no financial stake at all. Nine-year old environmentalist Madhvi Chittoor testified on the environmental benefits of Right to Repair in Colorado.
A single dad and advocate for people with disabilities, Kenny, supports Right to Repair because he needs to be able to fix his electric wheelchair. He had to wait 63 days before authorized technicians could change his chair’s battery. “No one should ever have to fear death or fear for their family because a company decides a medical equipment customer does not have the right to replace their own batteries,” he told me.
A look at who is for and against
Looking at Washington’s 2021 Right to Repair bill, supporters willing to go on the record include tech recyclers, 350 Seattle: Climate Justice, WA Poor People’s Campaign, ACLU of Washington, and more than a hundred citizens who made the effort to voice their support of the bill. Not a single regular citizen registered against the bill — the only “cons” received came from trade associations or Apple, Google, and Microsoft themselves.
Think about that: No citizens voiced opposition to Right to Repair in Washington, only corporations and trade groups.
Right to Repair would help lessen our massive environmental burden, help get technology to families in need, help our hospitals run more effectively, and give U.S. consumers the choice to upgrade their devices or repair them.
It’s no wonder why Right to Repair has a lot of people behind it. But with over $10 trillion worth of opposition, progress will be hard-fought. We are still working to get more people, more refurbishers, more fixers and reusers and environment advocates to help us tip the scales.