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Sides lining up for fight over device repair bill

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Minnesota could be the first state to require that manufacturers of small electronic devices provide all repair shops with parts and information to carry out fixes, under a bill that will be considered in this year's legislative session.

Lawmakers got a preview Friday of the tussle ahead when the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy took testimony on the bill that proponents say would make it easier to repair broken tablets and phones and that opponents say threatens device security and intellectual property.

Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, said his goal is to "provide a playing field where these independent businesses would be able to provide those services and have less interference by poison pills or not being able to have the tools or schematics necessary to make these repairs."

Osmek has the backing of a sprouting sector of independent repair shops that replace shattered screens, swap out batteries or reconfigure old hard drives as well as environmental groups that see it as a way to reduce the number of devices that wind up in the trash.

"If we truly own our electronics, we have to be able to access repair parts and repair manuals," said Amanda LaGrange, chief executive of a nonprofit called TechDump, which trains ex-offenders and recovering addicts to refurbish recycled electronics.

"I love being able to take my vehicle to my local repair shop in Hopkins, Minnesota called Dale Feste and know they can get whatever they need. We want to be able to do the same as a repair shop of electronics."

The bill would require the device manufacturers to allow independent shops and others to access schematics, diagnostic tools and service parts. It would apply to phones, keyboards, external storage devices and similar electronics, as long as the screens are nine inches or smaller. Medical devices and embedded software and parts in motor vehicles would be excluded.

It would be up to the repair firms whether they offer warranties on their work.

Similar bills have been discussed in 12 states, but none has become law.

Opposition is coming from a consortium of device manufacturers and others in the electronics retail sector.

Tony Kwilas, a lobbyist for the Computing Technology Industry Association, said customers already have options to get repairs, either directly from the companies that make devices or from vetted repair shops where technicians are certified to fix problems.

"We want to ensure our quality, the safety and the security of our products," Kwilas said.

Lisa McCabe of CTIA, a trade association for the wireless communications industry, said there could be consequences related to operation and security of the products.

"By having all of this information out there, weakening the privacy and security protections could put consumers at risk," she said. With "access to all this technical information, criminals could more easily be able to circumvent protections, harming not only the product owner but also everyone who uses the network on which they are connected."

McCabe added that federal law could get in the way of the bill's goals. She said trade secrets and intellectual property would be put at risk.

Osmek said he remains open to working with the groups with concerns and could change his "right to repair" bill prior to votes in upcoming months.

"There is a lot of work yet to be done. This is not a finished product," Osmek said. "But I do want to make sure that the organizations that are against this come to the table to find a way where we can continue this discussion and not stick peoples' head in the sand."