Washington’s state legislature is moving quickly towards banning the sale of devices containing “difficult or impossible to remove” batteries, Motherboard reported today. With a potential start date of January 1, 2019, the ban is a standout element in Representative Jeff Morris’ Fair Repair Act bill, aimed at helping consumers avoid planned technology obsolescence. If passed, the bill would require portable devices to be more easily repairable, rather than disposable.
Available for public inspection under the working title HB 2279, the bill has received committee approval on its way to a vote by Washington’s full House of Representatives. Unlike earlier right-to-repair bills, it addresses the specific issue underlying Apple’s recent iPhone throttling debacle: the role failing batteries play in premature device replacement. Morris notes that Washingtonians have pointed to iPhone battery issues as “accelerating the demise of their technology so they have to buy the next model.”
The bill would ban the sale of “digital electronic products” designed to prevent independent repair, including the practice of permanently attaching a “battery in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to remove.” While many portable Apple products such as AirPods might seem to be affected, the current bill only explicitly covers flat panel screen-equipped devices such as smartphones, electronic reading devices, laptop computers, and tablets — not accessories. And Apple’s not the only target. Rivals including Washington’s own Microsoft have released Surface devices that savvy repair shops describe as “not meant to be opened or repaired,” with batteries that are “dangerous to replace.”
As Motherboard notes, 12 states introduced right-to-repair bills in 2017, requiring device manufacturers to provide repair information and parts for their electronics; 17 states have similar bills pending in legislatures as of today. In general, the bills aim to stop manufacturers from hoarding components necessary to keep devices functional and using software locks to discourage third-party repairs or parts. Although the bills have struggled to become law, they have pressured manufacturers to make third-party repairs easier: Apple offered proprietary iPhone screen replacement machines to around 400 third-party repair shops last year.
Washington’s bill will need to pass through both legislative houses and Governor Jay Inslee’s desk before becoming law. While it has already gained the support of multiple Washington legislators, consumers, and repair shops, it’s opposed by a coalition of 14 trade groups including the Consumer Technology Association, who called it “unwarranted” in a letter to Morris. Explaining their opposition, the groups suggested that the bill’s information-sharing provisions would enable criminals to compromise both device and network security. Given growing consumer anxiety over premature device failures, more compelling arguments will be necessary to undermine the benefits right-to-repair bills are likely to achieve.
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