Eight states are mulling leg­is­la­tion that would thrill iFixit—and anger Ap­ple

Inc. (USA) - - TECH -

THE FIRST CAR I owned was a 1970-some­thing Ford Mav­er­ick. When you opened up the hood, it was easy to do what­ever you had to do—new plugs, new belts, oil change. Cars to­day are packed to the gills with cir­cuitry and soft­ware. But that doesn’t mean they’re un­fix­able by any­one other than the man­u­fac­turer, de­spite what car com­pa­nies would have us be­lieve.

Such was the im­pe­tus be­hind Mas­sachusetts’s Right to Re­pair bal­lot ini­tia­tive of 2012, which vot­ers ap­proved by 86 per­cent to 14 per­cent. It gave car own­ers and in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops ac­cess to the same di­ag­nos­tic tools, re­pair man­u­als, and firmware that li­censed deal­ers have.

Now law­mak­ers in eight states are pur­su­ing leg­is­la­tion that would ex­tend the con­cept to cover com­put­ers, smart­phones, and trac­tors. “Re­pair is im­pos­si­ble with­out ac­cess and in­for­ma­tion,” says Gay Gor­donByrne, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the lob­by­ing firm Re­pair As­so­ci­a­tion. One such bill was in­tro­duced in Jan­uary by Ly­dia Brasch, a state sen­a­tor for a ru­ral district in north­east­ern Ne­braska. She’s tired of driv­ing 80 miles to Omaha—to the only Ap­ple store in Ne­braska— to get her com­puter fixed. Her hus­band, Lee, is a fifth-gen­er­a­tion corn and soy­bean farmer who’s had sim­i­lar is­sues with his $300,000 John Deere com­bine. ( John Deere, says Gor­don-Byrne, is “the Ap­ple of farm­ing.”)

Ap­ple, which did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests to com­ment for this story, is not happy with what’s hap­pen­ing in Ne­braska— and Kansas, Min­nesota, New York, Ten­nessee, Illi­nois, Mas­sachusetts, and Wy­oming. Re­cently, the com­pany sent a del­e­ga­tion to the state capi­tol in Lin­coln to have a word with Brasch. Ap­ple’s lob­by­ists were “re­spect­ful,” she re­ports. They of­fered to back off if she ex­empted smart­phones. Then they tried to scare her, warn­ing if the bill passed, Ne­braska would be “a mecca for hack­ers and bad ac­tors.”

But Brasch isn’t buy­ing it. “How many bil­lions do you need?” she won­ders. “There should be a lit­tle piece of the ap­ple for the rest of us to share.”

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