from Don’t-go-don’t-repair-your-essential-medical-device department
Last week, New York State became the first state to pass right to repair legislation. The bill was the culmination of years of consumer frustration with repair monopolies, heinous DRMs, reduced access to repairs, high repair costs, and the inability to find tools, parts and documentation. While the bill only covered some consumer electronics, campaigners hope it will expand to other sectors (automotive, medical).
More quietly, Colorado also passed a narrow right to repair law specifically targeting electric wheelchairs (Hats off to Cory Doctorow). Like so many industries, power wheelchair manufacturers have slowly carved out a monopoly on the sale and repair of wheelchairs, making repairs expensive and difficult (by design). The issues were recently documented in a US PIRG report:
Wheelchair-dependent Americans may find themselves locked into a multi-billion dollar market for complex rehabilitation technologies (CRTs) like electric wheelchairs, part of a 50 million dollar durable medical equipment (DME) industry. billion that is increasingly dominated by a handful of large, national providers.
Unlike traditional consumer electronics customers, the 3 million power wheelchair users in the United States can find themselves stuck in their beds for months when they come up against repair monopolies. But, like most other industries in the United States, the real underlying culprit is corruption, consolidation, and greed:
The multi-billion dollar electric wheelchair market is dominated by two national vendors, Numotion and National Seating and Mobility. Both are owned by private equity firms looking to increase profits and reduce expenses. This includes limiting spending on technicians and repairs, which, combined with insurance and regulatory hurdles, frustrates wheelchair users looking for quick fixes.
This consolidation means less competition, so not only are the chairs harder to repair, but the quality is lower, causing them to break more often. Medicare’s bidding process also favors these industry giants, who are able to achieve economies of scale to win such bids by sacrificing quality and customer service. The end result is a big mess that’s easy to ignore if it doesn’t directly hurt you or someone you love.
As with other industries targeted by the right to repair (agricultural equipment, medical equipment, consumer equipment, smartphones), the DMCA criminalizes people who hope to do so themselves, and the companies involved are doing everything possible to restrict access. to parts, tools and documentation to “authorized suppliers” (usually an extension of the dominant companies).
Colorado’s new law, which again won’t get much attention in the NFT Elon Musk brain fart era of US tech coverage, requires these manufacturers to provide parts, manuals and codes for unlocking to electric wheelchair owners and independent technicians. This, in turn, will help free these wheelchair users from what Doctorow calls the “endless bureaucratic nightmares” they are obliged to live.
Although consumer rights have had a dark time as a whole, the right to fix the transition from the niche nerd movement to the mainstream has been a breath of fresh air. And while the first set of laws are very restrictive in terms of what is actually covered, most of these solutions tap into a long-standing frustration among consumers, they have broad bipartisan support that will only grow.
Filed Under: colorado, dmca, drm, monopolies, right to repair, wheelchair, wheelchair repair