In-Depth: A local woman's story highlights the fight for the right to repair | WHEC.com

In-Depth: A local woman's story highlights the fight for the right to repair

In-Depth: A local woman's story highlights the fight for the right to repair Photo: News10NBC.

Brett Davidsen
Updated: May 06, 2021 11:24 PM
Created: May 06, 2021 10:08 PM

HONEOYE FALLS, N.Y. (WHEC) — On any given day, you'll find Jessa Jones peering through a microscope, examining and fixing damaged cell phones and tablets from her repair shop, iPad Rehab, in Honeoye Falls.

Jones has a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics. She became an expert on smartphone repairs accidentally—when one of her children dropped her iPhone in the toilet. She knew the Apple Store wouldn't repair the water-damaged phone, so she taught herself to fix it.

"It took me two years to fix that phone," Jones said. "And along the way, I bought a microscope and learned how to figure out how circuit boards work and I learned a lot of skills, messed up a lot of stuff along the way, but ultimately, fixed that phone and now that's what we do for people from all over the world."

People like Sunayana Dumala. In 2017, her husband, 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was shot to death in a hate crime in Kansas. Dumala was desperate to recover the photos and data from her husband's phone, which had stopped functioning after being soaked in his own blood.

We spoke with Dumala this week via Zoom.

"This phone is very dear, very important to me," she said.

She said a local repair shop couldn't fix her husband's phone, and recommended she contact iPad Rehab.

"I don't have the person with me. If I can at least get the memories," Dumala said.

"I remember that phone," Jones said. "We cleaned it and cleaned it and cleaned it before I could even put it under the microscope to work on it and it just had this err of sadness."

After nearly giving up, Jones somehow managed to bring Kuchibhotla's phone back to life.

"She said she could hook it up and see his bright smiling face. It was an emotional thing," Dumala recalled.

While dramatic, Dumala's story is not unique. Jones gets broken phones from all over. People with cherished memories or valuable information they're desperate to recover. Sometimes even law enforcement turns to her for help as she showed us.

"So this is a phone that contains evidence for a crime where someone lost their life, and the only way to get the information out of this phone is for somebody like me to be able to fix it," Jones said.

But frequently, the makers of our phones tell us they can't be fixed. Furthermore, tech giants like Apple refuse to provide parts or information about their products with unauthorized repair shops. And that forces independent repair experts like Jones to rely on aftermarket parts from sometimes questionable sources.

"When something breaks and the only solution is to take it back to the manufacturer, they can charge you whatever they want or they can push you to get the upgrade instead of fixing what you already have," said Nathan Proctor.

Proctor is with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer watchdog leading the campaign to give consumers more options where they can have their phones repaired.

"Having experts, brilliant, capable people who are figuring out how to keep technology working, that are rescuing people's precious memories from damaged phones, I think is a wonderful, incredible thing that we should be supporting," Proctor added.

In New York, a bill called the Digital Fair Repair Act is now before the State Senate and Assembly. It would require Apple and others to provide parts, manuals, schematics, and diagnostic software to the public. State Senator Neil Breslin (D, 44) is the sponsor of the bill.

"We need it because without it, major manufacturers...are able to really have a monopoly on the total repair of that product," Breslin said.

We reached out to Apple by phone and email. They did not respond to our request for comment.

U.S. PIRG says passage of the Digital Fair Repair Act would save New Yorkers a collective $2.4 billion a year, or about $330 per household.

Breslin said tech companies have spent a lot of money lobbying against "Right to Repair" legislation.

Brett Davidsen: "As the sponsor of this bill, has your office heard from these lobbyists who are against it?"

Sen. Neil Breslin: "Yes, we have."

Brett Davidsen: "And what do they say?"

Sen. Neil Breslin: "They say we're the only ones who can fix it... it's very complicated and they suggest there's a privacy part of this."

Jones says that's simply not true.

Brett Davidsen: "Passage of this legislation would mean what to the end consumer?"

Jessa Jones: "It would mean that the end consumer would have freedom of choice where they could come down here and see what does it cost, what's the personalized repair options... they'll have a choice."

And perhaps a chance to recover a treasured memory.


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