House votes to extend right-to-repair law to digital electronic equipment

Colorado state Reps. Brianna Titone and Steven Woodrow speak in March on the House floor about their newest right-to-repair bill.

Once again it will fall to the Colorado Senate to determine whether to expand Colorado’s right-to-repair law, this time to the wide category of digital electronic equipment.

House Bill 1121, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Brianna Titone of Arvada and Steven Woodrow of Denver, would give Colorado residents the ability to repair themselves or take to an independent repair shop a range of devices and household appliances. It received approval from the full House on Tuesday by a 39-18 vote, with two Democrats joining all Republicans who were present in opposing it, and it awaits its assignment to its first committee in the Senate.

The bill follows efforts from Titone the past two sessions that allowed independent repair first of wheelchair equipment then of agricultural equipment, with both bills setting national precedent for consumer rights in those areas. Titone has said the efforts send a message to Congress that national laws are needed, and the newest bill follows passage of a legislative resolution in January requesting the Federal Trade Commission facilitate use of scores that indicate repairability of electronic devices.

What the new right-to-repair bill does

HB 1121 would allow for consumer repair of computers, cell phones, washing machines, dishwashers and other devices or equipment that include some sort of digital component. It has several exemptions, including for marine vessels, all-terrain sports vehicles, medical devices, power tools, privacy and anti-theft equipment, solar panels, central-station alarms and leased equipment — some of which were added due to industry concerns.

The bill models itself after similar laws passed in California, Minnesota and New York, but it pushes further than those states in banning “parts-pairing,” beginning on Jan. 1. That practice, used by some electronic-equipment manufacturers, bars repair shops from using third-party or used parts in fixing items, making equipment like cell phones inoperable if they are fitted without parts obtained from the original maker.

That clause in particular goes to the sponsors’ overall aims — allowing more freedom for equipment owners to fix things how they want, reducing the price of goods by permitting longer use of existing equipment and boosting the environment by cutting electronic waste. Woodrow said the bill boosts free-market competition.

“We don’t need a nanny state of the manufacturer telling you that you shouldn’t be able to use anything but the parts they provide,” Titone added to the House during debate on the bill Monday. “We shouldn’t have the company being the bottleneck and the gatekeeper on the parts you use.”

Consumer rights vs. manufacturer rights

But where supporters position this as a consumer rights’ issue, opponents say it strips the original manufacturers of their rights to determine how the equipment they have developed and sold can be fixed in order to benefit their brands and their customers.

“We don’t need the government stepping in and telling us what we can and can’t do with stuff that we own. But we also can’t have the government stepping in and telling businesses how they go about producing and manufacturing and taking care of their products that they put lots of money into developing and tons of time in getting to a place where they have a product that works and that is safe,” said Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington. “This really, in my mind, goes against all of the hard work and innovation that’s gone into all of these products and then opens the market up for people who are not associated with that company to profit off of it.”

Colorado state Rep. Mike Lynch speaks Monday on the House floor against the newest right-to-repair bill.

HB 1121 has pitted some manufacturers against repair shops and has been portrayed — at least by the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which supports it — as a bill that benefits small business over the interests of big business. It’s even divided major tech companies, with media outlets noting that Google has supported the ban on parts-pairing while Apple continues to insist on parts-paring for repairs.

Many manufacturers and tech-industry leaders asked Titone and Woodrow not to kill the bill but to amend it — or repair it, if you will — to give them more protection against issues that could arise from its broad right of repairability.

Tech leaders’ worries with right-to-repair bill

Ruthie Barko, who serves as executive director for industry group TechNet for Colorado and the central U.S., requested removal of a clause requiring manufacturers to provide repair parts and instructions for non-cell-phone equipment dating back to 2015. She called the provision — which also applies to cell phones made in 2021 or later — unworkable, noting that product improvements in the past decade have moved manufacturers from storing many parts for older versions, a requirement that would be “incredibly burdensome” on the supply chain.

Barko also asked sponsors to strengthen protections surrounding trade secrets for manufacturers in terms of what they must hand over to independent shops. And she requested they strengthen provisions around cybersecurity and privacy, pointing to documented instances where intimate images on phones have been accessed during repair operations.

Titone added an amendment to HB 1121 specifying that the bill does not require manufacturers to make available tools or documentation that would disable or override any privacy or anti-theft security measures on the digital equipment. But other amendments didn’t address the concerns of Barko and other industry leaders.

“TechNet continues to work with legislators to make HB24-1121 a better and stronger bill,” Barko said in an email to The Sum & Substance. “Despite the amendment process in the House committee, which did not address our concerns, the bill still fails to provide adequate protections for trade secrets and ensure privacy and cybersecurity vulnerabilities that result from third-party repair access to devices are addressed more clearly.”

Consumer electronics equipment such as computers and cell phones are the subject of a new right-to-repair effort.

Cybersecurity threats?

There remains considerable debate, for example, on whether the requirement to hand over tools and repair manuals to repair shops unaffiliated with equipment manufacturers will threaten the security surrounding the equipment.

Dustin Brighton — director of the Repair Done Right Coalition of electronic-equipment, home-appliance and cell-phone makers — said the bill “might increase cybersecurity risk for consumers and businesses while threatening Colorado’s innovation economy.”

But Paul Roberts — founder of, a group of cyber and tech professionals backing right-to-repair bills — said repairs will not increase of cyber-attack risks. “Those urging against this law aren’t interested in securing data; they’re arguing to keep a profitable monopoly on parts and labor costs,” he said.

What happens next

Even as legislators in Colorado and other states debate companies’ responsibilities to make equipment and manuals available to the public, more tech giants are getting on board with the concept. Steven Nickel, Google director of consumer hardware operations, told the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee during a Feb. 29 hearing on the bill that his company now is partnering with independent repair providers across the county and supports HB 1121.

But much like bills seeking to boost consumer privacy in areas like biometric or neural data this year, it’s not the principle of HB 1121 that riles business executives so much as the details that they worry could leave them open to problems.

Last year, the Senate made changes to the agricultural equipment right-to-repair bill that opponents conceded at least got it into better shape. It’s very likely that same chamber will be asked to consider similar upgrades this year in the regulation digital equipment.