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Editorial: Lemons Online

Saving State Consumers From Defective Computers

Sunday, December 05, 1999

To hear spokesmen for the computer industry tell it, you'd think their business was dangling by a thread. You'd think the state's modest, pro-consumer legislation would be enough to send it over a cliff. You'd think that prices would soar and make computer systems less affordable.

Don't believe it for a second.

Why? Because the auto industry made the same claims before Pennsylvania instituted its auto lemon law. That was in 1984, yet look at all those cars.

Now the Legislature is considering a similar proposal for computers. House Bill 1817 has been offered by Rep. T.J. Rooney, a Democrat from Bethlehem, and was assailed Tuesday by industry critics during a hearing before the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

The proposed Computer Lemon Law would require the repair or replacement of computers that are deemed defective within two years of purchase. It would set time limits for repairs and require manufacturers to provide a refund if a second repair is ineffective. The coverage would apply to small-scale computer owners - individuals or businesses that have less than 30 computer work stations.

In essence, the bill would require computer makers and sellers to follow through on the warranty service that many of them already promise but sometimes fail to deliver. Rep. Rooney has cited horror cases involving buyers around Pennsylvania who brought home costly systems - one of a household's most expensive purchases - only to discover a defect or failure for which the industry refused to be responsible.

Craig Kimmel, a consumer attorney from Montgomery County, told the House panelists that such instances are becoming more commonplace as the computer business expands.

Decrying the bill, though, were several computer industry executives who said the Computer Lemon Law would show Pennsylvania sending anti-business signals (once again), discouraging the technology business and triggering a rise in computer prices.

That is hardly the case, given the record of Gov. Ridge and the Legislature on business and high-tech policies. On the matter of consumer protection leading to higher prices, computers are in a highly competitive market, and prices, even on recent innovations, are dropping all the time.

While most computer buyers are happy with their models and get good service under their warranties, it's unfortunate that a few members of this lucrative industry have failed the test of consumer satisfaction. All that the Computer Lemon Law would do is make fair treatment the statewide standard. And no good business should fear that.

As reported on The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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