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California Bill Would Make It Cheaper To Fix Your Smartphone

Ben Margot / AP Photo

This Aug. 26, 2015, file photo shows an Apple iPhone with a cracked screen after a drop test at the offices of SquareTrade in San Francisco.

Ben Margot / AP Photo

Repairing a smartphone can be a hassle and is often expensive. Consumer advocates say that’s because phone manufacturers have a monopoly on repairs. The advocates are pushing for a California bill they say would solve the problem.

The “Right To Repair” Act, AB 2110, would require companies like Apple and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair manuals to independent repair shops.

Maureen Mahoney with Consumers Union says some companies don't sell parts and or give out repair information.

“Apple for example has their authorized servicers and they want you to go to the Apple store in order to get it fixed,” Mahoney said. “If you try to do these replacements yourself or go to an independent repairer, you often get penalized. There's always the risk of voiding your warranty.”

The repair process is so frustrating that some consumers are just buying a new phone instead of fixing their perfectly good one, Mahoney said, adding that this is wasteful and bad for the environment.

Apple has said having customers go into stores or authorized repair shops ensures the products are fixed correctly. The company has also raised concerns about independent repairers hacking consumers’ phones.

But Gay Gordon-Byrne with the Repair Coalition, an advocacy group for independent "fix-it" shops, says Apple has an unfair monopoly on the repair market. When companies restrict the sale of parts, it forces independent businesses to hunt around for them on their own, or pay whatever Apple is charging, she said.

"A piece of glass not long ago, even when you went to the Apple store, was $200. It's not a $200 part and I think everybody understands that, but because they were the only source, it was $200,” Gordon-Byrne said. “This makes no sense to me and it's the kind of mindset that permeates all sorts of products."

The repair issue is part of a larger “pivot point” happening on digital rights, Gordon-Byrne said, adding that other digital issues are coming into the public spotlight, including Facebook’s data collection policies. “They’re all intertwined with these issues of ownership, privacy and digital rights,” she said.

This Democrat-sponsored bill would make it illegal to void warranties because of outside repairs. The measure passed one committee and will be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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