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Why Ting cares about the right to repair

Right to repair

Ting recently joined repair.org. We’ve admired their work for a while so committing our support was not a difficult decision.

We thought our choice to throw our hat in the ring, as the only mobile carrier to date to do so, would say something about where we stand on things like this. We didn’t expect it would spark the level of interest that it did.

Tucows, Ting’s parent company, has always been an advocate for the tinkerer mentality. We support people and causes that have curiosity as a cornerstone. Curiosity leads to audacity and the realization that individuals aren’t subject to the world, they have a part to play in creating it.

Thinking we, as end users, can fix a broken screen or a flat battery isn’t crazy-out-there audacious, but it goes against what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

We’re not saying repairing electronics is easy. What right to repair argues is that people should have the right to attempt repairs themselves or to find a reputable repair person to do the work for them. The other option is for device manufacturers to be the ones to choose how, when and if a device gets fixed as well as how much the repair will cost.

The right to repair movement is about telling manufacturers they’re not allowed to lock people out. I might not want to attempt a repair myself. That doesn’t mean the manufacturer should be allowed to forbid any repair that doesn’t involve them directly. I should be able to take my phone to a reputable repair shop and get it fixed. By the same token, reputable repair shops should be allowed to exist. They shouldn’t have to deal in the grey market for parts or specialized tools to open the often proprietary fasteners manufacturers will use.

Linear economy

The alternative to a world where the right to repair is implicit is a top-down model where the top provides and everyone merely consumes.

Aside: we’ve never liked the word consumer. People do more than merely consume. If we call people consumers, we boil them down to a single, crass action.

An argument against the right to repair is effectively an argument that companies should retain some ownership of the things we buy from them. They should have some say in how we use these things. For example, I buy a phone from Apple, Google, Samsung, whoever. If something goes wrong, the only place I might be able to go for remedy is Apple, Google, Samsung, whoever. We’re not talking about where you have to go to seek remedy within the warranty period. We’re talking about for the life of the device.

That’s a linear system. We are consumers who take what we’re given and are thankful for it.

Circular economy

By contrast, a circular economy is not only more fair and reasonable for the individual, it’s more sustainable and diverse. Recent history aside, it’s also the way things have typically been done.

A circular economy is more spread out. The decision making isn’t concentrated up at the top of the chain. In a circular model, a small electronics repair shop is a viable, contributing business. In a top-down linear model, a repair shop goes against the model of buy, consume, dispose and becomes subject to the whims of the manufacturers. Choking it out would be only too easy.

To bring it back around to Ting (given that this is our blog) we only really care about what phone you’re using on the network as much as you do. That is to say, Ting Mobile is as happy to offer service on the latest and greatest flagship as we are on the lowliest flip phone, a brand new phone or an old phone that you have set up just the way you like.

Stated simply, we think that people should have the right to repair the stuff they buy. Whether it’s a smartphone, a TV, a laptop or a tractor. Repair shouldn’t be conflated with modification and so, repair shouldn’t be a violation of the end-user license agreement (EULA). Also, while tech obsolescence is ultimately unavoidable, we need to get away from thinking of our technology as being disposable.

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