Ohio introduces law to give consumers control over what they buy

Ohioans assume that the electronics, tractors, and even wheelchairs they buy can be repaired, but increasingly that is not the case.

State Sen. Bill Blessing, R-Colerain Twp., says manufacturers of all kinds of everyday items build in complexities and withhold schematics that unfairly limit their customers’ ability to repair and make those repairs more expensive.

“There’s no reason to make this extraordinarily complex other than to say we want to control that part,” Blessing said. “It tells customers, ‘We don’t want you to fix this. We want you to throw it out and get something new.'”

For this reason, he introduced Senate Bill 366. This bill, known as the Right to Repair Bill, requires manufacturers to provide owners and independent repairers with access to service information and affordable replacement parts.

“You bought it,” Blessing said. “You shouldn’t have to beg permission to fix it.”

right to repair

In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission released a 56-page report for Congress titled Nixing the Fix, which strongly supported the idea that consumers should be able to fix what they own or replace their broken items bring to independent repair shops.

And things like product designs that make repairs difficult or impossible, part unavailability, software lockouts, and policies that direct people to the manufacturer for repairs can hurt consumers.

This has sparked a lot of resistance from manufacturers, particularly in states like New York that have recently passed similar legislation. John Deere, Microsoft and Apple were among dozens of companies campaigning against the New York law.

Manufacturers had a long list of reasons, including user safety, trade secrets, and incentives for innovation.

But the FTC disagreed, saying in its report that “there is little evidence to support manufacturers’ justification for repair restrictions.”

Take the trade secret argument, for example. The report says that trade secret protection would not be compromised because it is “information that manufacturers already share with authorized repair centers.”

And those limitations “may place a greater financial burden on Americans of color and low-income” if they can’t easily repair their devices.

What’s next?

In April 2022, Apple announced its self-repair service, allowing customers who enjoy working with electronics to purchase the tools they need to repair their iPhone.

“The Apple tools available to customers in the Self Service Repair Store are the same used by Apple’s repair network,” the company said in a press release. “They are specifically designed to provide the best repairs for Apple products.”

But Blessing still believes passing right-to-repair legislation in Ohio will be an uphill battle.

“Obviously I won’t get a hearing in Lame Duck. I won’t ask for it,” he said. “But even in the next (General Assembly) I would be surprised if I got a hearing anytime soon. There is so much resistance in the business world. How do you deal with that?”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on SB 366, but Blessing said industry lobbyists have “blown up my phone” since the law was made public.

“We have to defend ourselves against this attitude that pro-business is pro-market. It’s really not the same,” Blessing said. “It’s one thing to make the gear, but quite another to claim a monopoly on the repair… That’s my goal, and I hope I can make it.”

Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which oversees the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.