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Apple and Farmers Fight in Right to Repair Movement | Time.com
Hand Me That Wrench: Farmers and Apple Fight Over the Toolbox
Jun 22, 2017
Like any farmer, Guy Mills Jr. has had his share of equipment trouble.
In the past, Mills, who grows corn, soybean and alfalfa on his
3,810-acre farm in Ansley, Neb., would have fixed his machinery himself.
But like so many essential tools, Mills' equipment has become so
technologically complex that he needs outside help when it breaks down.
Unfortunately for him, that help can eat up time and money, both of
which have been in short supply.
"If you have a bad alternator, they connect a computer to your tractor
and it tells them the alternator is bad," says Mills, 57. "Before, there
were other signs. Is the battery dead? Do you have lights? Just by
looking at it and using deductive reasoning, you figured things out."
Mills and his fellow farmers say that part of the problem is that
equipment manufacturers like Deere & Co., maker of John Deere tractors,
make it difficult for consumers and independent repair shops to get the
tools needed to fix today's high-tech tractors and other heavy
machinery, which run on copyright-protected software. Instead, customers
must often work with company-approved technicians, who can be far-flung
and charge expensive rates. So Mills and other farmers nationwide have
banded together in support of the so-called Right to Repair legislation.
These bills, which have been proposed in at least 12 states, would
require equipment manufacturers to offer the diagnostic tools, manuals
and other supplies that farmers need to fix their own machines.
"Customers, dealers and manufacturers should work together on the issue
rather than invite government regulation that could add costs with no
associated value," said Ken Golden, a spokesperson for Deere & Co.
The Right to Repair movement has come up against an unexpected opponent:
Apple. The iPhone maker and world's largest public corporation by market
capitalization has been lobbying state lawmakers in opposition to the
bills. The argument being made against the proposals is that they could
result in subpar repair work or--even worse--make consumers vulnerable
to hackers. Right to Repair advocates say that Apple, which offers
iPhone repair services at every Apple Store, wants to maintain control
of its share of the approximately $4 billion smartphone-fixing business.
"The more that they can completely own the repair experience, the more
of a profit opportunity there is," says Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, an
online repair-manual repository. Apple makes an estimated $1 billion to
$2 billion a year fixing iPhones compared to approximately $120 billion
to $200 billion selling them.
The battle has produced some unlikely bedfellows. Farmers like Mills who
want to repair their own heavy equipment are banding together with
techies like Wiens, who believes consumers should be able to fix their
own phones and computers. "There's a cultural perception that you can't
fix things anymore, but I'm not sure that's true," says Wiens, whose
website offers nearly 28,000 free manuals and had 94 million visitors
last year searching for DIY repair guides on everything from
PlayStations to lawn mowers to dishwashers. The issue is cutting across
party lines, with support from Republicans in agriculture-heavy states
like Nebraska and pro-consumer Democrats in states like New Jersey.
The battle over Right to Repair is about more than malfunctioning
tractors or cracked iPhone screens. It's about a spirit of
self-sufficiency that's baked into the DNA of blue collar America. Mills
says he takes pride in farmers' image as can-do fixers who can keep
their own machinery humming, so it's frustrating when that isn't
possible. "[We] should be able to obtain the necessary tools and access
to information necessary to repair our equipment," he says. Mills
stresses that modern farmers are increasingly familiar with high-tech
innovations, including everything from GPS to self-driving tractors, and
that with the right tools, they would be able to fix even the most
Some Right to Repair opponents have argued that consumers cannot be
trusted to fix or modify their equipment because they might further
damage it or hurt themselves in the process. But others say there's a
psychologically important benefit to mucking about with the things we
buy. "There's this pervasive sense that we're ruled by these inscrutable
forces that are hard to bring within view," says Matthew Crawford,
author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.
"Being able to be the master of your own stuff, to open it up and take a
look and take care of it, answers to a very basic human need."
Given the high-power opposition from the likes of Apple, Deere & Co. and
AT&T, it's unlikely that any state will pass a full Right to Repair bill
anytime soon. Nebraska's effort has stalled, and a measure in New York
may not advance before June 21, the end of the current session, leaving
Massachusetts as the next battleground. Supporters optimistically point
out that Massachusetts voters approved a similar measure involving car
repairs in 2012, leading some automakers to address their concerns
rather than navigate a complex patchwork of laws.
There are signs the pressure is also moving other companies to open up
at least a little bit. In early June, Apple announced that it would send
400 high-tech iPhone screen-fixing machines to third-party repair shops,
an unprecedented move for a company that has until now closely guarded
such technology. In an interview with Reuters, Apple brass framed the
move as an effort to improve repair service and cut down on wait times.
Still, some advocates say it's not enough. "If Apple seriously wanted
smaller lines in their stores, they could simply allow a lot more people
to replace the glass," says Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the
Repair Association. "This is so simple, and they have made it so
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