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Biden sets up tech showdown with ‘right-to-repair’ rules for FTC

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during an Apple event in 2019 in Cupertino, Calif.
Tech companies including Apple Inc., led by CEO Tim Cook, above, have imposed limits on who can repair broken consumer electronics such as game consoles and mobile phones, which consumer advocates say increases repair costs.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

President Biden will direct the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules aimed at stopping manufacturers from limiting consumers’ ability to repair products at independent shops or on their own, a person familiar with the plan said.

Although the agency will ultimately decide the size and scope of the order, the presidential right-to-repair directive is expected to mention mobile phone manufacturers and defense contractors as possible areas for regulation. Tech companies, including Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp., have imposed limits on who can repair broken consumer electronics such as game consoles and mobile phones, which consumer advocates say increases repair costs.

The order is also expected to benefit farmers, who face expensive repair costs from tractor manufacturers who use proprietary repair tools, software and diagnostics to prevent third parties from working on the equipment, according to the person, who requested anonymity to discuss the action ahead of its official announcement.

The executive order, which is expected to be released in the coming days, is broadly designed to drive “greater competition in the economy, in service of lower prices for American families and higher wages for American workers,” White House economic advisor Brian Deese said Friday.

The Biden administration is planning to require that airlines refund fees on checked baggage if the bags get seriously delayed.

The Biden administration effort comes as the European Commission has also announced plans for new right-to-repair rules that would govern smartphones, tablets and laptops. Environmental activists have said that restrictions on repairs encourage waste by making consumers more likely to throw out damaged items because of the high cost of repair.

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But tech companies and manufacturers have warned that opening access to underlying software and services could endanger Americans, from improperly installed batteries on tech devices to modifications on tractors and other heavy equipment that could bypass environmental and safety systems.

The order is expected to include a number of other actions designed to boost the agriculture industry, including new rules that make it easier for cow, pig, and poultry farmers to sue large processors if they are underpaid or retaliated against. Biden’s action will also call on the Agriculture Department to update current “Product of USA” labeling rules to restrict companies from labeling food produced overseas as American-made even if it was processed domestically.

The U.S. will also invest in new and regional markets in a bid to increase competition and lessen the influence of dominant processors, the person said. The Associated Press reported the planned agricultural actions earlier.

Biden’s executive order will also include new rules for the airline industry that guarantee bag charge refunds if a passenger’s luggage does not arrive on time. Under the new rules, in-flight internet service fees will also be refunded if passengers are unable to connect.


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