Important Tech Accountability Measures in California May Get Picked Up by Congress
Technology Policy Brief #88 | By: Mindy Spratt | May 19, 2023
Header photo taken from: calmatters.org
Two measures being considered by the California State Legislature would rein in egregious practices by tech companies that critics have long complained about. They are of course opposed by industry that may well see them as the tip of an iceberg, as they mirror efforts in other states and at the federal level. But some nonprofit advocacy organizations are also opposed.
Senator. Susan Talamantes Eggman’s (D-San Joaquin) Right to Repair Act (CA Senate Bill 244) would require companies to eliminate roadblocks that now prevent consumers from fixing electronic products like cell phones and appliances, forcing them to buy new ones whenever something goes wrong. The bill would provide additional benefits to the state by reducing the amount of electronic waste.
According to Californians Against Waste, a co-sponsor of the bill, easier access to repairs would also bring much-needed economic relief in the midst of rising prices. A recent report found that Californian families could save $330 per year by repairing electronics themselves or using independent repair shops, adding up to a total savings of $4.3 billion across the state.
New York state already has a Right to Repair law on the books, although it doesn’t encompass as many products as the California proposal. “The passage of the New York law demonstrates that there is nationwide economic and environmental urgency to extend digital rights to consumers and clear landfills from electronics and appliances waste” said Clara Vazeix, a Policy Analyst for Californians Against Waste.
New York and California are not alone. According to Stateline.org, 17 other states are considering similar bills, and facing “furious” opposition from the tech industry. And federal action may be coming. President Biden issued an executive order on the subject in 2021, requesting that the Federal Trade Commission draft new rules to prevent manufacturers from limiting the right to repair, and Rep. Joseph Morelle, (D-NY-25) introduced a federal Right to Repair Bill in 2021.
Also on the agenda in Sacramento this legislative session is the California Journalism Preservation Act (CA Assembly Bill 886). The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D- Oakland) would require tech platforms such as Facebook and Google to pay fees to newspaper publishers when they reprint local content. According to Wicks, “Currently, creators of quality journalism are not adequately compensated for the use of their content that takes a tremendous investment to produce, and therefore, cannot reinvest enough in journalists and newsrooms.” The fees from the new charges would primarily go to fund local journalism jobs.
Who could be against that, other than Google and Facebook? The media advocacy group Free Press for one, who said, in a letter to California Assembly Members, that the Act “is the wrong solution to the state’s local-news crisis. This bill is nothing more than a huge handout to the same companies — including conglomerates like Gannett and hedge funds like Alden Global Capital — that have systematically destroyed local news.”
The Executive Vice President & General Counsel of the News/Media Alliance, Danielle Coffey, disagrees. According to Coffey, “The dominant tech platforms reap the vast majority of the online revenue at news publishers’ expense”, decimating newsroom budgets and creating more opportunities for misinformation. Her organization, whose website says it represents “nearly 2,000 diverse publishers in the United States—from the largest groups and international outlets to hyperlocal sources…” supports the California bill and is advocating for similar legislation on the federal level.
The federal Journalism Competition & Preservation Act (JCPA), which came close to passing in Congress last year, was recently reintroduced by Senate Antitrust Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator John N. Kennedy (R- LA.)
Like the California Act, the federal one has been criticized by advocacy organizations as being too little too late. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation the JCPA would “limit the organizations that could get compensation under this scheme to publications with 1,500 employees or fewer. But that won’t preserve competition, because the loss of local and independent news has already happened.”
- Gadget Industry Tosses a Wrench Into ‘Right to Repair’ Efforts Elaine S. Povich – Feb. 2, 2023
- The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act Will Produce Neither Competition Nor Preservation, Katharine Trendacosta and Mitch Stoltz June 29, 2022
- New York Right-to-Repair Law Promises Easier, Cheaper Electronics Repairs, Nicholas De Leon, Consumer Reports, January 6, 2023