Broken laptop? How California’s right-to-repair movement is trying to make it easier to fix your electronics

Chris Culhane is not a fan of planned obsolescence when it comes to broken electronics.

“I’m always in favor of repair,” said the San Francisco accountant as he waited at San Francisco Computer Repair, an independent shop in West SOMA, to get data retrieved from his dead Dell laptop. “If you put three grand into a computer and something happens, I’d like to think you could get it fixed, right?”

That was the philosophy behind California’s SB 983, the “Right to Repair” bill, which died in committee on Thursday after supporters believed it would pass. The legislative bill, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, would have required makers of electronic gear such as cell phones, game consoles, washers and dryers, computers — almost anything with a chip inside — to ease the route to fixing broken stuff by providing parts, tools and manuals at reasonable prices.

Supporters pitched it as a no-brainer to save consumers money and reduce e-waste. But the electronics industry says that it could have created a free-for-all, allowing pirates to flourish, unauthorized people to access sensitive information and trade secrets to be violated.

Though California’s bill failed, other states are pursuing similar legislation and there’s also a pending federal bill.