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FTC pledges to fight unlawful right to repair restrictions

The Federal Trade Commission formally pledged to take on unlawful “right to repair” restrictions in a new policy statement issued Wednesday. The new policy could spell trouble for smartphone manufacturers like Apple that strictly inhibit users’ abilities to repair their own devices.

Wednesday’s new right to repair policy statement commits the FTC to encouraging competition in product repair markets with “vigor,” according to Chair Lina Khan. The statement, which was approved unanimously, makes it official FTC policy for the agency to use its existing authorities to support independent repair shops and lower repair costs for consumers.

“While efforts by dominant firms to restrict repair markets are not new, changes in technology and more prevalent use of software has created fresh opportunities for companies to limit independent repair,” Khan said Wednesday. “These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency.”

The statement comes just days after the White House endorsed similar rules in an executive order on economic competition. In the order, signed by President Joe Biden on July 9th, the White House explicitly calls out smartphone makers that “impose restrictions on self and third-party repairs, making repairs more costly and time-consuming, such as by restricting the distribution of parts, diagnostics, and repair tools.” At Wednesday’s meeting, the FTC did not name any specific companies or industries that it could target in future investigations.

The move was lauded by right to repair advocates like iFixit. In a statement Wednesday, iFixit’s US policy lead Kerry Sheehan said, “The FTC’s progress addressing repair restrictions shows how much momentum Right to Repair has achieved, and how powerful our community can be when we work together.”

“The adoption of today’s policy statement makes clear that the Commission will investigate unlawful repair restrictions, using the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and other consumer protection laws, as well as antitrust law to promote fair and open repair markets,” Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in a statement Wednesday.

Wednesday’s open session was just the second since Khan was confirmed as chair at an agency that traditionally works behind closed doors. In the first proceeding earlier this month, Khan’s FTC passed a pair of competition measures, setting the agency up to take more aggressive action on antitrust violations.

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