Vermont teen pushes for right-to-repair

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 6:30 PM EST
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BERLIN, Vt. (WCAX) - Would you feel confident fixing your own iPhone if you had the right equipment? What about another third-party vendor if they did? That’s at the heart of legislation in Vermont and numerous other statehouses across the country. Reporter Kevin Gaiss spoke with a Berlin teen who also takes the right to repair issue to heart.

Thirteen-year-old Jesse Batdorff loves working on tech. “I like the idea of fixing something and have it running better.,” he said.

The Berlin teen has been ripping apart computers and other gadgets for almost his entire life and has taught himself how to build them back, often better. He provides RAM upgrades and screen fixes, reviving dead machines for himself, friends, and families. But he often runs into some problems. “A major challenge is parts, part availability,” he said.

Batdorff admits companies have been getting better about offering parts but it is not where it could be. He says for his own laptop, he had to send it back to the manufacturer, which cost him time, money, and an accidental loss of all the data on the computer. He says the fix could have been an afternoon project for him. “It should have been that easy, and honestly it could have been that easy,” he said.

A bill introduced in Vermont and 19 other states is aiming to make it that easy. “You get on this treadmill of buying, throwing away, buying throwing away,” said Sen. Martine Gulick, D-Chittenden County. She says she introduced the bill to reduce e-waste and bring power back to the consumer. “These corporations really have a grasp on us. So, for me, it also came down to protecting the little guy, protecting the consumer.”

The bill would require manufacturers to offer parts, schematics, manuals, and diagnostics to independent repair providers and consumers looking to fix their own purchases.

But some have flagged concerns about requiring manufacturers to offer more than they do already. “There are going to be a lot of unintended consequences, unfortunately, when it comes to price as well as lower quality devices,” said Alex Reinauer with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank. He says right-to-repair bills would jam supply chains further, making it harder to acquire parts, increasing prices, and also creating a weaker tech market. “What this can do is really discourage innovation and discourage manufacturers from further digitizing their products.”

Batdorff disagrees. The aspiring engineer track says practice now will allow him to move tech forward in the future. But for now, he just wants to help his neighbors. “I want people to know they should be able to fix their stuff and I want them to know it should be affordable,” he said.

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