19-02-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, electronics giant LG Electronics called on the Australian government to introduce a framework that would provide clear guidance on right-to-repair. What is “right-to-repair”, why has this met resistance, and what are LG Electronics intentions with their request for regulation?
Right-To-Repair's concept is the idea that anyone has the inalienable right to repair equipment that they own. However, the right-to-repair goes beyond being able to open a product up and perform a repair. It also includes the right that a customer can go to a manufacturer and ask for spare parts, or alternatives to those parts.
This concept was extremely commonplace with most products in the past. Cars were mostly mechanical and all parts for a car could be sourced and replaced. Simultaneously, electronic products (such as old radios and TVs), would sometimes have a schematic provided that allowed a customer to identify and replace any component. Furthermore, manufacturers of electronic components would freely provide customers with details as to where to obtain parts if they no longer themselves stocked the needed part.
The electronics industry has gone through massive leaps in technological capabilities with billions of transistors fitting on chips and resistors that can barely be seen. Such technology has repaired electronic products more impractical and costly which have resulted in a throw-away culture. What used to be fixable with a few through-hole parts and a steady hand with a soldering iron can now require a reflow oven with precision tweezers and a microscope.
However, not all electronics are considered impractical to repair, especially those containing personal or sensitive data. For example, computers typically store photos of memories, programs that contain license keys, and files that are far too important to be lost. If such a device's motherboard was to fail, it could make sense to hire a professional repairman to fix the device and recover the information.
The repair industry provides many benefits to customers and the environment. Firstly, getting devices repaired by the original manufacture outside of the products warranty is often more expensive than having it repaired by a professional repairman. Secondly, repairmen's use provides a positive force on reducing e-waste as equipment that would normally be disposed of can be given new life.
However, some large businesses have begun to bring in practices that attempt to shut down the repair sector while taking advantage of customers. For example, Apple is notorious for charging customers disproportionate amounts for repair work. Still, repairmen find it increasingly difficult to source parts should they be tasked with repairing an Apple product.
Louis Rossmann, a famous repairer on YouTube, demonstrated this fact when testifying at Washington. According to Louis, Apple makes frequent address changes to the chips used in its products to salvage older ICs to repair newer devices won’t work. In the battery management IC case, this can only be repaired if a charger is purchased, the charging IC removed, and the new charger thrown away.
Businesses will claim that the right to repair a device should be severely limited on the grounds that repairers are not authorised to do such work, and the resulting repairs can create potentially dangerous products. However, when considering that individuals are allowed to change tyres on vehicles, or install new brake pads without regulation, repairing ICs and other damages to PCBs is arguably less likely to cause harm.
Furthermore, a company's ability to impose limits on what repair work can be done creates a monopoly that effectively forces the customer to pay whatever charges are asked of the company that produced the product should they require repair work.
Seeing how the right-to-repair can negatively affect a company, LG Electronics has recently called on the Australian government to create a framework around the right-to-repair. In essence, LG Electronics is concerned that products not repaired by LG Electronics will lead to compromised consumer safety.
Furthermore, LG Electronics outlined that the right-to-repair framework should ensure that only qualified individuals can perform such repair work. These individuals should also offer competitive prices, and that the quality of repair work should be monitored and follow harmonised standards.
However, LG Electronics further mentions that legislation should also protect manufacturers technical documentation and details to prevent the development of counterfeit products. Considering that repairers often require access to schematics when repairing electronics, this could show how LG Electronics is trying to create resistance by withholding information critical to repair work.
The right to repair a device is something that customers should be able to enjoy. When a product is a purchase, being able to repair that product not only extends its lifespan, it also helps to reduce e-waste while also creating an industry. However, the right to repair can easily be taken away if abused by those who do not consider the impact on customer safety.