If your phone breaks, you have limited official channels to fix it, with manufacturers tightly controlling the companies that are authorised to tinker with handsets. But in the United States, legislation has been proposed in eight states that would force companies to sell spare parts to the public and private repair shops, as well as making service manuals readily available.
The first of state to have a hearing date scheduled is Nebraska, and a source has told Motherboard that Apple is not taking this threat lying down – they will be sending a “representative, staffer or lobbyist” to Lincoln to speak on behalf of the company, alongside someone from AT&T. Allegedly, the industry's argument will hinge on the idea that fixing smartphones is dangerous, and could cause lithium ion batteries to catch fire.
The “right to repair” bills – which have also been introduced in New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kansas, Illinois and Tennessee – are being lobbied for by Repair.org, which has had to deal with similar arguments about safety in the past. Gay Gordon-Byrne, Repair.org's executive director, claims that industry lobbyists warned Minnesota lawmakers last year that broken glass could cut fingers of untrained members of the public who try to replace cracked screens.
“They should want to give people as much information about how to deal with a hazardous thing as they can," Gordon-Byrne told Motherboard. "If they're concerned about exploding batteries, put warning labels on them and tell consumers how to replace them safely.”
Any change to the law would force Apple to treat repairs in a markedly different way to how they do now. Currently, Apple has an “authorised service provider program” where third parties have to let the company view their financial records, promote AppleCare and to ensure that “high standards are consistently met.”
It may seem overkill for Apple and AT&T to consider sending a representative to deal with a single state's law, but one part of the country with different rules makes a policy difficult to maintain. Back in 2012, Massachusetts passed a law allowing customers the right to repair their cars, and it just made more sense for manufacturers to accept the local law nationwide, rather than to continue fighting wars on several fronts, while simultaneously spending resources on repair support for a single state. If the tech right to repair law passes in Nebraska, a similar nationwide adoption might prove hard to resist.
Images: Petter Palander and Felix Triller used under Creative Commons