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New York Law Mandating High-Tech Repair Options Signed

The New York bill was whittled down in several days of rapid-fire negotiations between legislators and the governor's office, leaving many advocates unhappy with the concessions they said were introduced late.

(TNS) — For over a decade, advocates of a legal "right to repair" high-tech devices such as smartphones and laptops have been pushing legislation across the country that would create a right for consumers to access replacement materials, tools and instructions at a reasonable cost. Last week, when Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Fair Repair Act into law in New York, they appeared to get their first major win.

But the New York bill was whittled down in several days of rapid-fire negotiations between the legislators who had passed it last June and the governor's office, leaving many advocates unhappy with the concessions they said Hochul's team had introduced at the eleventh hour.

"It's not what we wanted, but it's definitely a good start. Other states and other legislators will fill in the holes, and fill in the blanks, and fix some of these mistakes," said Gay Gordon-Byrne, head of, who has been lobbying for years on efforts to force manufacturers to let people fix their own devices.

Gordon-Byrne thinks that while the New York law will work for a lot of consumer products, it "doesn't cover enough." She is particularly troubled by the late-game exclusion of equipment sold directly to businesses and governments, such as the computers and tablets bought in bulk by schools.

Over the past year of heavy professional lobbying from associations like TechNet and individual manufacturers ranging from Apple and Microsoft to Medtronic, John Deere and Bayer, the law had already seen other carve-outs ranging from medical devices to high-tech farm equipment.

Pro-repair lobbyists have continued to push back against the growing exceptions list, which was reducing their goal to ensure reparability of any device powered by a microchip — the "brain" of most modern equipment. Technological advancements have increased the functionality of digital tools while giving increasing control over their repair to original manufacturers, even after they are in consumers' hands.

TechNet, like a number of the manufacturers it represents, has argued that forcing companies to offer low-cost replacement parts and instructions on how to fix their devices would generate major safety and security issues for consumers.

Earlier this year, Dusty Brighton — who heads the Repair Done Right Coalition, a group that often speaks for TechNet and its peer associations — said that if passed, New York's Repair Act would "force" original equipment manufacturers "to supply unvetted and untrained repair shops with their technical information that is proprietary."

But after continuing their conversations with the executive chamber in recent months, industry lobbyists are apparently content with the changes Hochul made to the bill before signing it into law.

"While (the Repair Act) remains a serious threat to intellectual property rights, TechNet's members greatly appreciate the significant strides made by the administration to address the most critical consumer protection and operational issues in the legislation as passed," said Chris Gilrein, TechNet's executive director for Massachusetts and the Northeast.

"The agreement reached with the Legislature enhances public safety, data security, and transparency in this new repair regime," Gilrein said.

Hochul's memo that accompanied her decision noted that aside from the law's new exclusion of equipment bought by businesses or government entities, it would no longer require original equipment manufacturers "to provide to the public any passwords, security codes or materials to override security features," nor to sell "individual components" rather than "assemblies of parts."

It is those exclusions that weakened the legislation, according to YouTube-famous right to repair advocate and technician Louis Rossman, who said the final law is "functionally useless" and "worse than nothing." In a 12-minute video Rossman posted online that quickly surpassed 100,000 views, he said the modifications negotiated by Hochul's office meant companies would be able to continue grouping and selling parts in unaffordable "assemblies," as many already do, instead of selling individual parts that might be broken.

According to the governor's memo, the compromise would solve safety issues where "improper installation heightens the risk of injury." Rossman's video counters that the grouping stems from decisions by companies, like Samsung opting to use industrial adhesive to glue cell phone batteries to screens so that they can only be sold as one part.

Nathan Proctor, who leads national Right to Repair work for the consumer and environmental advocacy-focused Public Interest Research Group, said it is "clear that the governor wanted to make some really big concessions to industry" before signing the bill. Proctor celebrated the law's historic enactment, but noted that it was his first time working directly on a law where a governor "counteracted its intent" right before passage.

"No other state in the country lets the governor do this," Proctor said, adding that "it is like having to pass through a third chamber of the Legislature."

But in spite of the law's shifted focus, advocates like Consumer Reports' President Marta Tellado have taken a more jubilant tone.

"We congratulate Gov. Hochul for signing this key piece of legislation, which will extend new digital rights to millions of New Yorkers," Tellado said in a statement. "This landmark law will save New Yorkers money, provide them with more convenient repair options, and cut down on waste. When your device is broken, you should have more options than a high-priced service or the landfill."

The discourse of some device manufacturers is already getting closer to that of repair advocates, anticipating shifting public perception. In November, representatives from Dell, Google and Samsung took the stage at an Electronics Reuse Conference in Colorado and spoke about how their three companies were shifting their positions on reuse, repair and longevity.

New York's new law will apply to consumer tech devices manufactured and first sold or used in New York on or after July 1.

© 2023 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.