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New York's Right to Repair is running out of time

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That could be bad news for broken gadgets

Wadester / Flickr

Last year, legislators in New York state introduced an ambitious new bill called the Fair Repair Act. The bill's measures are simple, requiring electronics manufacturers to make available the necessary information and parts to repair a device. That means when your phone or smartwatch screen breaks, you'll be able to repair it without sending it back to the manufacturer, a big difference for third-party repair groups like iCracked and the Fixer's Collective.

But for the last year, nothing has happened to push the bill forward — and now, the measure is running out of time.

New York's state legislative session finishes at the end of the month, and unless the bill has cleared committee and passed a vote in both chambers before then, it will be back to square one. "Something’s got to happen in the next two weeks or it’s not happening this year," says iFixit's Kyle Wiens, one of the bill's central proponents.

Wiens is still optimistic about the bill's chances, but there are a lot of hurdles to be cleared in the weeks to come. The bill is currently in committee, and will need to clear that committee, pass in both the state assembly and senate, and be signed by the governor before it becomes law. The bill has been largely well received by the legislature, with sponsors from both parties. Governor Cuomo has yet to express any position on it.

If the bill does pass in New York, it could have immediate implications for gadget owners across the country. A previous law targeting auto repairs in Massachusetts had national effects on car policy, and there's reason to think New York's electronics bill will have a similar impact. If repair information is available in New York, it will be available everywhere, and manufacturers often find it easier to build a national infrastructure for distributing parts than building separate systems one state at a time.

That national impact could also endanger the bill, if corporations opposed to the measures sense an opportunity to bottle up the bill before it becomes law. There's no indication that's happening in this case, but it's happened recently in other states. In May, a state senator quietly moved to weaken Illinois' landmark biometric-privacy bill, which Facebook and Google have both been accused of violating. The move was applauded by Facebook, but withdrawn by the state senator after it led to press scrutiny.

So far, the larger Right to Repair campaign appears to be popular, drawing more than 14,000 entries in a letter-writing effort — but it remains to be seen whether that support will translate into political momentum. "The legislators should have a chance to vote on it," Weins says. "All we want is a floor vote and we’ve got a pretty good chance to do that as long as some backroom deal doesn’t happen."