Yeah, I’ve Seen This Movie Before

VTDigger’s Sarah Mearhoff authored an article Thursday that prompted flashbacks in this tired old brain. The story was copiously entitled “As the ‘right to repair’ debate comes to Montpelier, lawmakers face a ‘flood’ of opposition from national interest groups.”

Yep, a look back in the Google Machine reveals that I wrote the same damn story back in 2018.

“Right to repair” is a concept that ought to be enshrined in our law, except that it causes conniptions in Our Corporate Overlords. They’ve created perpetual revenue streams for consumer products by making it difficult to downright impossible for an owner to repair stuff outside of the corporation’s closed circle of bespoke parts, tools, software, and authorized repair shops.

This is fine in some ways, bu in excess it costs consumers bucketloads of extra money. You can’t, for instance, take your iPhone to an unauthorized shop to get a cracked screen replaced or a new battery installed. You’ve got to go to an official Apple shop and pay full Apple prices. And a repair shop has to pay through the nose for the privilege to be an official Apple joint. (Small Dog is no longer authorized to do Apple repairs because they didn’t want to pay the requisite freight.)

At issue in 2018 was a bill to establish a right to repair for all consumer items. It ended up as yet another study bill after hungry packs of top-dollar lobbyists descended on the Statehouse. This year, the bill in question would create a right to repair only for farm equipment. And once again, the custom-tailored lobbyists have swarmed the Statehouse. It’s the same playbook, and I fear it will once again end with the bloody carcass of pro-consumer legislation being ripped to shreds in their oh-so-sharp teeth.

Corporate repair monopolies are irritating and expensive for consumers. They’re an even bigger problem for farmers, whose livelihoods depend on their equipment. If your harvester breaks down somewhere in rural Vermont, it might take days to get an authorized technician to your farm. Plus it costs an arm and a leg. Corporate control of parts and repairs is an unnecessary burden on an agriculture sector that has more than enough problems to deal with, thank you very much.

In 2018, lobbyists warned of the “life and death” consequences of unlicensed repairs as if, as I said at the time, “a hospital would call Bud’s Bait Shop and MRI Repair to fix its high-tech scanner with, I suppose, chewing gum and duct tape.” Another lobbyist said that “when customers modify code, bad things happen.” A third hinted darkly at access codes falling into the hands of “criminals and bad actors,” as if Al Qaeda is going to take down The Great Satan by hacking into a John Deere tractor. I imagine their instrument of destruction would look something like the illustration at the top of this page.

These stories were patently ridiculous, and there were passionate and articulate witnesses in favor of the right to repair. But the sharks struck fear in the hearts of the Senate Economic Development Committee, which backed away from its own bill like it was a live grenade.

The lead sponsor of H.81, Rep. Katherine Sims, told VTDigger that she didn’t expect the ‘flood’ of opposition the bill has received. But it was exactly what has happened before. Expect the pressure, buckle up, and listen to your constituents, not to hired assassins whose target is inconvenient legislation. And who will get the Hell out of Montpelier as soon as they can and never give us a second thought.

Right to repair would not only be a huge benefit to consumers, it would also open the market to independent shops that have been marginalized or driven out of business by corporate squeeze plays. There is no good reason for us not to have the right to repair, except that it hurts big corporations. And when push comes to shove in the corridors of power, the big boys usually win. They did in 2018; they probably will again this year. It’s a damn shame.


3 thoughts on “Yeah, I’ve Seen This Movie Before

  1. fubar

    “They did in 2018; they probably will again this year. It’s a damn shame.”

    You’re right. It’s the bully power of the money they’ve got courtesy of their little racket. It is a damned shame.

  2. montpelier28

    All old time Vter’s are turning in their graves. Can’t repair my own equipment, government ****** I can just hear them (Gramp). Do corpses get quotes?


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