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With Biden order, ‘right to repair’ in federal focus

Right to repair advocates who represent independent shops and consumers say they are expecting the FTC to move quickly.

“No one’s got a bigger megaphone than the administration, and so them bringing more attention to the automotive right to repair issue is really important,” said Justin Rzepka, executive director of the Consumer Access to Repair Coalition, a group of independent auto parts and repair companies, associations and insurers.

“It’s hard to argue this doesn’t help our side, bringing more attention to this issue,” he added.

The commission — led by Chairman Lina Khan and flanked by two Democratic and two Republican commissioners — is scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 21, to vote on whether to issue a new policy statement on repair restrictions following the FTC’s report to Congress on the topic.

The report issued in May catalogs the types of repair restrictions used by manufacturers in the auto industry and other sectors, summarizing explanations for those restrictions as well as repair advocates’ arguments against them.

It also suggests solutions to complaints across a range of consumer products — including vehicles, cellphones and farm equipment — either through state or federal law, voluntary cooperation by industry or new FTC regulations.

“Legislation is often difficult to enact when there is well-funded opposition,” said Joshua Sarnoff, a DePaul University law professor. “The FTC rule-making is a way to proceed, which can largely avoid the lobbying efforts of the auto industry.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation — the trade association that is challenging Massachusetts’ updated right to repair law, which expands access to telematics data — said it is “carefully reviewing” the president’s order and its impact on the industry.

John Bozzella, CEO of the alliance, said the FTC’s report shows “automakers are the premier example of how to give consumers widely available options for repairing their products” when compared with other industries.

The FTC report said “the auto industry has shown that in certain contexts, self- regulation can significantly increase consumers’ repair options,” citing a memorandum of understanding signed by automakers, independent repair shops and aftermarket parts makers in 2014. The agreement, which came about after Massachusetts passed its own automotive right to repair law in 2013, gave shops in all states the same access to diagnostic and repair information.

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