Vermont task force examines consumers' right to repair

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) A newly created Vermont task force is exploring the barriers preventing consumers and small repair shops from fixing popular products like cellphones, laptops, home appliances and tractors.

"The electronics-- getting parts-- I mean, it's just such a nightmare," said Tim Newcomb of Worcester.

Newcomb says his wife wanted to replace a battery in a two-way radio.

"You can't even get into it. It's just a dead battery and forget about it. You can't get into it. So you have to go buy a new one," he said.

Gay Gordon-Byrne is the executive director of the Repair Association. She's pushing legislation around the country to force manufacturers to provide the tools and information needed to repair consumer goods at home or in local repair shops.

"I think it's all about the money. It's so simple," she said. "If consumers can't fix their stuff, they're either gonna have to go without or buy new and that's not always possible."

Gordon-Byrne says the business model for manufacturers is to encourage the sale of new products by restricting access to parts, service diagrams, diagnostic tools, specialized tools and software that would allow for home repairs.

Sen. Chris Pearson, D/P-Chittenden County, sponsored a bill granting consumers the right to repair but had to settle for the Right to Repair Task Force that he now leads.

"We didn't set out to have a task force but I think there's some big issues to try to uncover here, so a task force seems like a reasonable path," he said.

Pearson says Vermonters are resourceful.

"Vermonters have a sort of culture of fixing our own stuff, whether it's a tractor or the toaster," he said.

But Pearson says manufacturers have made it increasingly difficult to do that.

"Can we figure out a way to say to industries, 'Look, we're gonna buy your products but you have to recognize that when we buy your products, they become ours and we deserve access to parts and information that would help us repair our own stuff,'" he said.

Kevin Callahan with the Computing Technology Industry Association says forcing companies to provide access to proprietary software or systems could have security risks.

"That's always part of the concern," Callahan said. "Certainly, hackers are going to find a way. I think it's just about opening the doors to everybody and also having a state mandate requiring companies to open the doors to everybody is concerning."

Pearson said the task force will provide recommendations to the Legislature in January.