My "Right to Repair" Letter to Minnesota Legislators

March 11, 2019

Hi!  I’m John, and I’m writing in support of HF1138.

I own a small unauthorized Apple laptop refurbishing business, and I have been in operation for ten years.  I moved my company to Minneapolis from Chicago two years ago. 

Millions of perfectly good four-year-old laptops pass through the recycling channel every year, donated by government, academia, and corporations.  Every year I buy thousands of broken laptops from these recyclers, fix them, and put them back into circulation.  Previously I had been a corporate IT director, but I never felt good about what I did professionally until I started my repair business.  Repair seemed like an occupation filled with hope and infinite possibility…what better thing could I do, after all — what greener thing, what more American thing — than start a business which essentially turned trash into gold?  I have trained dozens of people to leave their corporate jobs and start their own repair companies.  I have sold low-cost computers to individuals who were stunned to realize they could buy a fully working refurbished MacBook for $200 instead of $1500 new.  Many parents are able to buy one laptop for each child instead of a single device for them all to share.

But in recent years the scene has changed dramatically.  I have witnessed tens of thousands of laptops destroyed by recyclers because they did not have access to the parts, tools, or knowledge necessary to fix them.  I have witnessed tens of thousands of laptops destroyed because the donating institutions left them “locked”, and Apple would not unlock them or provide recyclers/refurbishers the tools to do it themselves.  I have witnessed a decline in repairability due to integrated, non-replaceable parts and proprietary designs intended to keep owners from fully accessing their own devices.  I have been subject to Amazon and Apple’s recent agreement to ban small refurbishers from Amazon — effectively erasing small business’ access to half the online retail marketplace, and putting several hundred companies similar to mine out of business.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, manufacturers are working hard to fool us into believing that we are licensing the devices we buy rather than owning them, because a license grants us fewer rights.  They want to prohibit us from doing repairs, and ultimately from even being able to sell the devices we own.  They want us to believe that they have some kind of lingering, ongoing right to the devices they have sold us, but they don't!

In short, the repair world — the world of small business, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability — is experiencing a full-on assault from manufacturers.  Apple pays lobbyists to demonize small businesses like mine with marketing spin and fear rhetoric, telling us the real issues are customer experience and safety.  But don’t be fooled — it’s about corporate profit.  The net result of their actions will cause our ownership rights to further degrade.  The net result of their actions will cause tens of millions of devices to be scrapped.  When your laptop or phone breaks, they want you to give up the thought of repair and simply buy a new one instead.  That’s all.

HF1138 will not address all of these concerns, but it will send a clear signal and take a giant step forward.  Just as already exists in the auto industry, those who repair devices will have access to the information and parts they need to work on products that they and their customers own. We all realize and accept that independent mechanics can plug into our cars in order to diagnose and repair them, so why on earth should it be off limits, and even potentially illegal, to do the same with our laptops and phones?  It is the fog of technology, the confusion of licensing-vs-ownership, that causes us to doubt that we own our devices and therefore have the right to do what we want with them.  But make no mistake:  We DO have that right, and now we need to claim it.

Paid lobbyists for the manufacturers hope they can fool you by whitewashing these issues, allowing their employers to further degrade ownership rights so they can make more money.  I hope I can count on you to see through their tired arguments — please stand up for entrepreneurship, small business, a sustainable future, and our right to repair.

If I can do anything to help, or answer any questions, please let me know.

Thanks,

John

 

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