New York has become the first U.S. state to sign into law a digital right to repair bill, putting a substantial measure of power back into the hands of consumers.

Instead of paying for costly repairs, consumers will now be able to buy replacement parts for broken devices and fix them by themselves. The Digital Fair Repair Act was signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul today, several months after it had passed both chambers within the state’s legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. Although passed back in June, it was only this month that the bill formally landed on the governor’s desk.

It’s a significant milestone because the Digital Fair Repair Act is the first bill of its kind to pass through a state legislature in the U.S., as opposed to being implemented by executive order. Advocates of the bill such as the right-to-repair group iFixit have hailed it as a “precedent-setting” change that requires consumer electronics firms to provide to consumers the same diagnostics tools, repair manuals and spare parts they make available to to technicians.

The bill certainly represents progress, but some have noted that the law is significantly weaker than the one that was first proposed by New York legislators, thanks to some serious lobbying efforts made by trade groups like TechNet. There are a number of amendments in the bill signed by Hochul, designed to address issues that could put people’s “safety and security” at risk.

For example, the bill is not retrospective and will only cover devices that have been manufactured and sold in New York on or after July 1, 2023, which means that all existing consumer electronic devices are excluded from the new measures. In addition, “business-to-business” and “business-to-government” equipment that isn’t sold to consumers is also not covered in the bill. Manufacturers are also not required to provide passwords or other tools that could be used to circumvent device security locks, in order to safeguard anti-theft features.

In addition, manufacturers will in some cases be able to provide “assemblies” of parts rather than individual components in cases where “the risk of improper installation heightens the risk of injury.” So someone who’s looking to replace a smartphone’s display might have to install an assembly that includes a display, battery and cables connecting the two parts, even though the new battery wasn’t needed. Critics say this amendment could increase the cost of self-repairs and reduce their appeal.

The amendments add to some already broad exemptions in the bill, which excludes medical devices, home appliances and motor vehicles.

iFixit Chief Executive Kyle Wiens acknowledged that these compromises weaken the bill, but insisted its passing into law is a “huge victory” for consumers. “New York has set a precedent for other states to follow, and I hope to see more states passing similar legislation in the near future,” he said.

Photo: JESHOOTS-com/Pixabay

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