(The Center Square) – Delaware lawmakers are considering a proposal that would require manufacturers of electronic gadgets, from smartphones to vacuum cleaners, to share repair information, tools and parts with consumers and small repair shops.
The digital right to repair proposal, if approved, would force manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Apple to openly sell parts and provide diagnostic manuals to independent repair shops.
The bill's primary sponsor, state Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said the changes are aimed at "taking back consumer rights" by giving them and small business owners the power to repair basic electronic products.
"When consumers and third-party repair shops can’t get what they need to service privately owned products, it puts too much power into the hands of manufacturers, allowing them to force obsolescence and eliminating repair as an alternative to replacement," she said in a statement.
The rules would apply to “any product that depends for its functioning, in whole or in part, on digital electronics embedded in or attached to the product.” It excludes farm, marine, lawn and garden products, off-road equipment as well as construction equipment, generators, batteries, fuel cells and internal combustion engines.
Under the proposal, the state attorney general would be empowered to take action against any company found in violation of the act. Sanctions could include injunctions, lawsuits, or fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
Consumer advocates say the lack of repair data from electronics manufacturers ultimately drives up costs for consumers by not allowing a more open repair market.
Manufacturers have resisted right to repair bills, arguing that controlling repairs keeps their products working safely. They also point to copyright laws that allow them to guard their intellectual property, including against potential pirates.
Briggs said she believes the legislature can come up with a plan that addresses those concerns, while expanding consumer access to electronic diagnostics.
"I believe we can address manufacturers’ concerns of keeping proprietary information confidential and protecting consumer data, while giving product owners more flexibility, choices, and cost-effective options," she said. "Companies should not be allowed to monopolize repairs and make it a profit center of their operations."
Last year, lawmakers in at least 27 states were considering right to repair bills, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
The average U.S. family disposes of 176 pounds of toxic electronic waste each year, according to the group. It says lifting repair restrictions will reduce the flow of e-waste into landfills and save consumers money.
Two weeks ago, New York became the first state in the nation to enact a digital right to repair law, which was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul. The legislation, which will not go into effect until July 1, has been criticized for having broad carve outs that will severely undermine its effectiveness.
In Congress, lawmakers were considering a bill in the previous session that would require manufacturers of digital electronic equipment “to make available certain documentation, diagnostic and repair information to independent repair providers.” But the measure failed to pass, despite widespread support.
Last year, President Joe Biden directed the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules on repairing electronics and review whether the limits imposed by manufacturers constitute anti-competitive conduct.