It doesn't have to be so damn hard to get your iPhone fixed

A new bill would give independent shops the power to fix your iPhone, taking away Apple's monopoly over repairs.

A new bill would give independent shops the power to fix your iPhone, taking away Apple's monopoly over repairs. Associated Press

Somehow, some way, you broke your iPhone screen. Maybe you dropped it just one time too many. Maybe you sat on it. Maybe you just looked at it funny. No matter what you did, you know what you’re in for: Carving out the time to stand in line at an Apple store, until it inevitably closes too soon.

That’s if you’re lucky enough to live anywhere near an Apple store. If you’re out in rural Minnesota, your best bet is probably shipping your phone to the company like Moses in the reeds -- and being without it until they eventually send it back. 

And that’s only if you happened to have purchased an AppleCare+ warranty plan. If you didn’t, repairing the screen can cost you almost as much as buying a new phone. 

One could argue that you should be able to go to the electronics shop down the street and have the damn thing fixed in 45 minutes. But because of Apple and other manufacturers’ strict repair policies, those shops don't have the manuals, parts, or software codes required to do it.

Consider it just another way Silicon Valley keeps its hand firmly in your pocket. 

Minnesota state Rep. Peter Fischer (D-Maplewood) wants to change that. He’s sponsoring a “Fair Repair” bill that would allow independent repair shops to have the tools and information they need to fix iPhones, computer servers, John Deere tractors, and everything else companies now restrict you from fixing in your own way. 

“If you can choose where to get the best services for your car needs, you should be able to choose where to get your phone or anything else electronic fixed,” Fischer said at a hearing last month. (He didn't respond to interview requests.) 

Minnesota isn’t the only state reexamining its relationship with its unfixable technology. About 20 other states have introduced similar legislation this year. Last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed a national version of the bill, but just for farm equipment.

There is resistance from predictable parties. Lobbyists have argued that the law could subject their companies’ products to subpar repairs or leave them vulnerable to hackers. It’s in the interest of their reputations -- and consumer safety -- to leave this to them.

But proponents say that decision should be up to consumers, not companies. Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, who testified on the bill’s behalf, says he probably won’t ever need to  fix his increasingly high-tech farm equipment himself. But his grandchildren, born and raised in an increasingly digital age, might. So might Piper Kline, the St. Paul high-schooler who testified after him.

Kline runs her school’s technology repair team. “I go to a small school, so we can’t afford to replace things when they break,” she said. “But I don’t have access to the things that we need to fix.”

She wants to see a change of “culture.” She wants to go back to fixing things instead of throwing them away. And she believes she and her peers are the ones to do it.

The Fair Repair bill has passed its committee hearing, which means it may get its moment on the House floor later this month.