The thrifty, crafty New Englander is not just a stereotype — research points to a longstanding culture of repair and reuse in Maine that abhors waste, either in material or money.

But actions by manufacturers have made it harder, and in some cases impossible, for anyone but themselves to fix or maintain many consumer products, limiting consumer choice and raising costs.

The Federal Trade Commission voted on Wednesday to take action against these anti-competitive practices, which strike right at the heart of small business and entrepreneurship. In doing so, the agency is asserting that we all have — to use a phrase from activists — the “right to repair.”

That right never used to be in question. There was a time when the lives of the things we bought could be extended with a few spare parts and some know-how.

But more and more, companies are keeping a tight hold on both those things, forcing consumers to either use the manufacturer’s own repair service, or buy a new product outright. They are purposely designing products to complicate or prevent repair, keeping parts and repair information to themselves, or using software locks to push out the competition.

“Repairs today require specialized tools, difficult-to-obtain parts, and access to proprietary diagnostic software,” an FTC report said in May.

As a result, the small businesses that do third-party repair are put at a disadvantage, stunting a local industry full of innovators who offer affordable services. And when a product breaks, consumers have few places to go but back to the manufacturer.

So when someone breaks their smartphone — and it’s their only way to access the internet — there’s probably no shop down the street that can get it back to them quickly and cheaply.

Or when schools need laptops for students, they can find it difficult to rebuild old computers themselves, and are forced to buy new ones — if they can find them with the broken supply chains of the COVID era.

The FTC also heard from farmers with broken-down tractors, hospitals with worn-down ventilators, and members of the military with malfunctioning equipment. All of them wanted to do the repairs themselves but were stymied by lack of help from manufacturers.

Opposition to the right to repair, besides from manufacturers looking to preserve this revenue stream at the expense of consumers, comes from concern over safety should the wrong person work on an item. There are certainly safety considerations in some industries, but the FTC report found those worries in general overblown.

The harm to consumers by repair restrictions is just too high to ignore. Americans everywhere rely on these products to get through the day. When one breaks down, they should have more than just one costly option to get it back up and running.

And, besides, in a world full of waste, we should be reusing the things we buy, not tossing them into a landfill every time a problem arises.

We’re sure any thrifty Mainer will agree.


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