Lack of right to repair hampers agriculture and health care – Dakota Free Press

NPR morning edition discussed the “right to repair” movement among farmers this morning. A Montana farmer-turned-activist has told how last summer, while running to harvest hay, his John Deere tractor broke down. John Deere policies prohibited him from taking his tractor to an independent mechanic or trying to repair his own tractor on site to resume haymaking; Deere forced him to take the tractor to one of its dealerships for a service that lasted a month and cost $5,000.

The problem arises because, as we increasingly rely on precision farming and use technology to make engines cleaner and more efficient, John Deere and other manufacturers are equipping their tractors with a software they keep secret. Basically, a farmer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on an agricultural machine that he doesn’t really own and can’t open and repair with his own hands.

The same problem arose with medical equipment:

COVID-19 underscores manufacturers’ long-standing refusal to provide information for the repair of medical equipment. For years, manufacturers have restricted hospitals’ ability to independently repair and maintain medical equipment by preventing access to the necessary knowledge, software, tools and parts.

A solution exists, a solution that exists in other sectors of our economy. The right to repair is the consumer’s right to repair and modify their own consumer electronics, such as cell phones and automobiles. The European Commission announced plans in March 2020 for new right to repair rules that would cover mobile phones, tablets and laptops by 2021. In the United States, the state of Massachusetts passed the the country’s first Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act in 20125 requiring automakers to provide the information necessary for anyone to repair their vehicle.

The medical community now has the opportunity to ensure that the medical field has open data access rights similar to rights for consumer electronics and automobiles. In August 2020, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right to Repair Act of 2020, removing barriers to repairing medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic that have been imposed by the manufacturers. This bill requires manufacturers to provide, on fair and reasonable terms, access to information and tools that can be used to diagnose, maintain or repair medical equipment. The law also allows landlords, tenants and medical equipment services to repair or maintain critical medical infrastructure in response to COVID-19.

In these extraordinary times, such legislation for the right to repair not only moves the medical field in a more affordable, efficient and sustainable direction, but also allows vital services to continue to be available in times of high stress. [Shuhan He, Debbie Lai, and Larone Lee, “The Medical Right to Repair: The Right to Save Lives,” The Lancet, 2021.03.24].

Since April 22, 27 states have introduced right to repair legislation, including bills focused on agricultural or medical equipment. South Dakota is not one of them; the South Dakota legislature took weak stabs at right to repair legislation with Senate Bill 136 of 2014 and 2019 House Bill 1102, but no bill survived first contact with the committee due to opposition from tractor dealers, car dealers, telecoms, retailers and the Chamber of Commerce.

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