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Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for a national right-to-repair law on Sunday. The right-to-repair law is a part of Sanders’ plan to revitalize rural America, which his campaign unveiled on its website. Sanders’ plan involves using antitrust legislation to bust up large agriculture firms, reforming patent law to protect farmers from seed patents, and national right-to-repair legislation to ensure farmers can repair their equipment.
“In rural America today, farmers can’t even repair their own tractors or other equipment because of the greed of companies like John Deere,” Sanders’ plan said. “When we are in the White House, we will pass a national right-to-repair law that gives every farmer in America full rights over the machinery they buy.”
Massachusetts Senator and Democratic primary rival Elizabeth Warren made a similar call in March. “Farmers should be able to repair their own equipment or choose between multiple repair shops, she said in post on Medium. To date, Sanders, Warren, and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper have all called for right-to-repair legislation focused specifically on farm equipment.
But the right-to-repair is an issue bigger than farm and it affects all Americans. When an iPhone breaks, Apple wants you to take it to an authorized dealer to get it repaired or replace. But with a little training and replacement parts, people can often fix their phones themselves. That hurts Apple’s bottom line and it’s taken steps—from killing touch functionality on phones with aftermarket screens to fighting against right-to-repair legislation—to keep people from doing it.
Farmers have long been on the frontlines of the right-to-repair debate. Thanks to a tight control of firmware via digital rights management tools, John Deere has an effective monopoly on the equipment in makes. Farmers with John Deere tractors have been hacking their equipment and lobbying for laws to bust up the manufacturer’s repair monopoly.
Sanders, Warren, and Hickenlooper have all publicly pledged to work to end that monopoly by passing national right-to-repair laws to aid farms. That’s a narrow focus, but an important step that nationalizes the right-to-repair movement.
Right-to-repair supporters have been fighting at the local level for years, and legislators are considering right-to-repair legislation in 20 states. On April 30, a California state representative pulled right-to-repair legislation she had sponsored after Apple lobbyists claimed people could hurt themselves if they tried to repair their own devices. Just days later, on May 2, Apple lobbyists helped to kill a right-to-repair bill in Ontario, Canada.