Ontario Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Michael Coteau sat in his constituency office in Don Valley East, Toronto with a frustrated look on his face. He was looking at a badly damaged Samsung S8, which was on the table in front of him.
“My daughter dropped my phone, the phone in front of you right now, that I am no longer using as a phone. It sits in a cradle and powers that monitor,” Coteau pointed to his computer desk where a monitor sat. “I’m using it just as a CPU rather than a phone, but you can see it’s a Samsung. It’s an S8, and it’s cracked.” Coteau is using Samsung’s DeX smartphone desktop platform.
There were sunburst cracks all over the phone and it was badly scratched. It made you wonder how his daughter was able to damage a phone in that way.
The former cabinet minister under then-Liberal premier Kathleen Wynn, said breaking his phone coincidentally happened at the same time he was creating his private member’s bill, the right to repair. The bill is set to be introduced in the Ontario legislature sometime later this week.
‘Right to Repair’ movement an inspiration
About four months ago, Coteau saw a CBC article on a similar idea coming out of the U.S. called the ‘Right to Repair Movement” championed by The Repair Association. According to the association’s website, its efforts are based on the 2012 Automotive Right to Repair Law that passed in Massachusetts in 2012. The movement didn’t start until 2016.
“The concept is simple. The digital electronics within automobiles are the same parts used in thousands of other devices, suffer the same types of failures, are controlled by the same types of firmware, and are repaired using the same information, parts, and tools. Since repair is the same, the rules for repair should also be the same,” the website reads.
Things didn’t really click for Coteau until he went to try and get his S8 fixed.
“They said $330 plus tax. Almost $400 to fix a past generation phone. The S9 is out, and the S10 is coming out soon,” Coteau said. “Then I checked party suppliers and against the price, it was pretty high. So it was cheaper for me to go to my local carrier and get a new phone.”
Coteau said he didn’t understand the rationale behind that.
“I couldn’t reuse the phone, which I have no problem with, it’s a great phone, it suits my needs. But I thought, what a waste. The fact that in most cases that phone would just become garbage,” Coteau said with a baffled look on his face.
There are several aspects to Coteau’s private member’s bill. But what he really wants to make clear is that the bill would give consumers protection, and the right to repair their phone with the necessary tools.
That would mean companies would be forced to release their manuals of how to set up products, as well as diagnostic tools designed for consumers to be able to repair their phones on their own. They would do it in a way that it wouldn’t harm their intellectual property, Coteau said.
It would also mean companies would have to make products available for consumers, and that too at a reasonable cost.
“They can make a profit, but they shouldn’t be gauging people to an extent where it’s cheaper to buy a brand new phone than it is to repair the phone,” he said.
Companies would make these parts available to third-party vendors who provide that service as well, Coteau said.
More importantly, Coteau explained how this would reduce the damage and cost it would have on our environment.
“There’s going to be a point where our phones and the technology around us will become something we use long term versus this disposable society we’ve become when it comes to our TVs, phones, our computers.
“Not only does it have an environmental impact when [companies] extract those minerals, but a lot of those products end up in countries in their stockpiles. There’s a lot of waste there; there is an environmental cost,” he said.
Apple vehemently opposes ‘Right to Repair’ movement
But Coteau is up against big companies like Apple.
Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit, a company that fixes phones in the U.S., said to the CBC in October that Apple has vehemently opposed the movement since it started in 2016 in the U.S.
“Apple doesn’t like the Right to Repair movement very much,” he said. “Apple’s perspective is that they want to complete control over the device from the moment that you buy it, all the way through to the end of life.”
Coteau gets that though. He said that he was willing to work with big tech giants like Apple.
“I would work with any company…to look for a way to better protect consumers,” he said.
But companies like Apple want to make money, and part of their profit comes from customers wanting to repair products and eventually just buying new ones.
“There’s a difference between wanting to own your intellectual property and being a good company that will repair products, and there’s a difference between doing that and putting people at a disadvantage for monetary gain,” Coteau said.
Coteau added that he spoke with Wiens and other lobbyists in the U.S. trying to make the right to repair a reality in Ontario.
At the time Wiens said to the CBC he wanted one jurisdiction to pass the right.
“If Ontario decided, ‘We’re going to pass the Right to Repair legislation,’ that could actually pass Right to Repair for the world, because manufacturers aren’t going to provide products differently to people in one jurisdiction. They want to simplify their operations,” Wiens said.
Coteau spoke with NDP, Conservatives on the bill
Coteau said he also asked a Conservative MPP and an NDP MPP to test the waters out. He did not want to say their names without asking their permission first.
Coteau said he asked the two MPPs to see if they were interested in co-sponsoring the bill.
“At this point, I’m just going to go forward with it by myself. I just didn’t get feedback from one, and the other one it was just lukewarm.
“In fairness to them, maybe it’s not a priority at this time because there are so many other priorities in the Ontario legislature,” he said.
Coteau inserted that he right now it’s been an educational campaign, making people understand the rights they deserve and soon bringing the bill in front of the legislature.
“People don’t realize the transformation that is about to take place in society,” he said. “The right to repair speaks to that change and the ability to control our products so we can repair it and so it can last longer and we can make changes and adapt it if necessary.”