Why it matters: The state of Massachusetts is set to be the stage for the largest -- and most important -- right-to-repair battle yet. Massachusetts lawmakers will hold a three-hour hearing regarding the state's proposed Digital Right to Repair act. The hearing takes place today, October 21st, from 12:30 PM – 3:00 PM EDT. The hearing will be held at the Gardner Auditorium. iFixit has organized an Eventbrite page for the hearing.
Massachusetts' Digital Right to Repair act would require electronics manufacturers to make available diagnostic, service, and repair guides. Manufacturers would also be required to sell parts and tools required for service and repair, while also being prohibited from blocking repairs on a software or firmware level. Like past (failed) legislation, the bills cannot be misconstrued to force manufacturers to divulge trade secrets, or proprietary technology that isn't pursuant to service or repair.
The Digital Right to Repair act and its associated House and Senate bills have enjoyed bipartisan support, with 76 co-sponsors in the House and 27 in the Senate. Additionally, the legislation isn't unlike the automobile right-to-repair laws that Massachusetts unanimously passed in 2012 that carried nationwide implications for the auto repair industry. In 2014, the collective automobile industry signed a Memorandum of Understanding based on Massachusetts' laws, ensuring automobile manufacturers would honor the law in all 50 states.
If Massachusetts manages to pass its Digital Right to Repair legislation, it could have a similar effect with electronics manufacturers, who likely don't want to contend with different laws in different states.
Although lobbyists have repeatedly killed similar legislation across the country, right-to-repair advocates have been playing the long game. This year alone, 19 states have considered this type of legislation. While Massachusetts would be the first state to pass any sweeping repair laws of this kind, the pressure on tech companies has been mounting as right-to-repair has gained more traction. Apple -- who has been a staunch opponent of right to repair -- just recently made an unexpected shift in policy, no doubt due to the growing right-to-repair movement.
As right-to-repair has become more visible, it's attracted attention from both the FTC as well as presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have both signaled support for the movement. While right-to-repair may become a 2020 campaigning issue, there's hope that it may not have to.