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One Controversial Thing Tractors and iPhones Have in Common

Earlier this year, Apple (AAPL) and Micro­soft (MSFT) marshaled their lobbyists in Lincoln, Neb., far from their usual corridors of political power. Their target was a proposed state law—the first of its kind, if passed—that could have set off a costly chain reaction nationwide.

For decades, many electronics manufacturers have profited from a choke hold on repairs to their products. For safety reasons, and to protect against intellectual property theft, they often prohibit customers from fixing devices themselves or taking them to local repair shops.

But Nebraska’s so-called right-to-repair law would have upended that near monopoly. Companies would have been required to sell repair manuals and spare parts to anyone, not just licensed technicians.

In the end, with an assist from tractor maker John Deere (DE), the tech companies prevailed in blocking the legislation.

In Nebraska, the legal tussle focused on tractors. The machines still have gears and blades, of course, but they are also equipped with sensors and digital consoles. For farmers, this creates a problem because they are often prevented from fixing their machinery without a technician sent by John Deere.

Farmers are pushing for right-to-repair laws.Courtesy of John Deere
Courtesy of John Deere

“In the case of Deere, it’s about controlling the repair market,” says Kit Walsh, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital advocacy group. Ultimately, farmers end up paying higher prices for repairs and waste more time waiting for technicians to show up, she says.

Even if you don’t own a tractor, this dispute between Deere and the farmers should feel familiar. That’s because the right-to-repair issue also affects anyone who owns an iPhone, which comes with Apple’s rigid rules that forbid tinkering with its software and making unauthorized repairs.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

While most people have little incentive to crack open their smartphones, farmers have long been able to pop the hood on their machines. Today, with the price of top-of-the-line combines approaching $600,000, the do-it-yourself spirit is still strong—even if Deere doesn’t always agree.

“We believe our dealers are in the best position to repair,” says Chuck Studer, John Deere’s director of industry relations.

While farmers are welcome to buy John Deere manuals and access diagnostic repair codes, which indicate what’s broken, critics say those manuals are too pricey for farmers and that only a limited number of repair codes are available.

The fight has now moved to 11 other states, where lawmakers are similarly proposing right-to-repair bills. As in Nebraska, you can count on the tech industry to wage an all-out war to stop them.

A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Tech Fight on the Farm.”