US President Joe Biden has signed an expansive executive order with 72 initiatives aimed at promoting competition, encouraging growth and innovation, raising wages, and lowering prices for consumers. Many of the provisions are aimed at the tech industry—here’s a small sample of some that are relevant to TidBITS readers:
- Calls upon the Federal Trade Commission to enact right-to-repair regulations
- Encourages greater scrutiny of mergers, especially by “dominant Internet platforms”
- Asks the FTC to establish rules on surveillance and accumulation of data
- Bans early termination fees on Internet services
- Lets hearing aids be sold over the counter at drug stores
The tech press has focused on the right-to-repair provision, which calls out cell phone manufacturers, along with farm equipment makers. Specifically, the order “encourages the FTC to issue rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.”
We’re generally supportive of right-to-repair (as is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak), but the devil is in the details. Would Apple be:
- Required to replace pentalobe screws with regular Philips head screws?
- Prohibited from using glue to seal products shut?
- Obligated to publish detailed repair manuals?
- Forced to sell parts to anyone who wants them?
- Compelled to provide proprietary diagnostic and repair tools to independent repair shops?
Many of the executive order’s initiatives seem like steps in a positive direction. Still, it will likely take quite some time for the relevant agencies to come up with specific regulations, and those will surely lead to legal challenges that could take more time to shake out.