Senators did not mention USB-C, but they did the next European legislation that will require the use of USB-C for smartphones, digital cameras, e-readers, headphones, laptops and other consumer technology products. However, the letter underscores the failure of the consumer electronics industry to set uniform standards for accessory charging and the resulting economic and environmental damage.
The following is an excerpt from the letter:
Dear Secretary Raimondo:
We write to you about the economic and environmental damage inflicted by the consumer electronics industry. This consumer electronics industry has not set uniform standards for charging accessories and forcing consumers to change their charging accessories frequently. This planned obsolescence is costly and frustrating for consumers, and leads to the proliferation of e-waste. In response to these questions, the European Union (EU) has just passed important legislation requiring electronic device manufacturers to adopt a common charger for mobile devices across the EU.
We commend the Minister for Trade for the steps he has already taken to address these issues and invite you to follow the EU’s example in developing a comprehensive strategy. We invite you to follow the example of the European Union by developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce unnecessary costs for consumers, limit electronic waste and restore the process of purchasing new electronic devices.
In our increasingly digital society, consumers often have to pay for new specialized charging equipment and accessories for their various devices. This is not only an inconvenience, but also an economic burden.
The average consumer has about three mobile phone chargers, and about 40% of consumers say that at least once they were unable to charge their mobile phone because the available chargers were incompatible. Innovation must benefit. You should not be in charge of forcing them to use incompatible accessories and forcing them to buy different chargers for each device they own.
At the time of writing, Secretary of State Raimondo has not responded to the letter.
The letter points to EU notes revealing that by 2020, 38% of European consumers had experienced a situation where they were trying to charge their phone at least once and the only available chargers were incompatible.
Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of a digital Europe, said in 2021: European consumers have long been frustrated with incompatible chargers crammed into their drawers. We’ve given the industry a lot of time to find its own solutions, but now is the time to take legislative action for a common charger. This is an important victory for our consumers and the environment, which is part of our ecological and digital ambitions.
Commissioner Thierry Breton, head of the internal market, said: Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With an increasing number of devices, more and more chargers are being sold that are not interchangeable or unnecessary. Let’s put an end to this situation. With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronic devices, an important step in increasing convenience and reducing waste.
This experience is ubiquitous for Apple iPhone users who depend on the proprietary Lightning port. Apple is the best known opponent of mandatory USB-C charging in the EU. He says the policy would limit innovation and create more confusion for customers and e-waste as Lightning chargers and accessories become obsolete.
In addition to using EU data to present his argument to Trade Secretary Gina Raimondo, senators asked him to follow the example of European lawmakers in developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce costs to consumers, limiting electronic waste and restoring common sense and certainty in the process of buying new electronic devices.
However, it will be a long way to see USB-C or any other standardized charging solution on consumer devices. It took the European Union ten years to adopt its legislation, which should not come into force before 2024. It faced strong opposition from Apple. For the Apple brand, the EU’s uncompromising stance on Lightning would contradict its policy of technological innovation. Imposing charging standards or supporting the European Commission’s proposal to make USB-C the only standard for cable charging for smartphones would be, according to Apple, a way to stifle innovation.
Meanwhile, the debate over a standard charger policy is beginning to take shape in the United States. Senators Markey, Sanders and Warren did not specify which technology products should be covered by the standard, nor the preferred cargo standard.
The senators also did not suggest the passage of a law, but a kind of inter-agency discussion. Like the EU’s universal charging policy and the struggle for the right to redress in the United States, common charging legislation in the United States is likely to face opposition from companies and political groups who believe the government should ‘be less involved. Mention should also be made of the remarkable movements in this field, in particular the approval by New York State of the first right of redress electronic devices.
The fight for the right to repair won a major victory earlier this month when New York State passed a bill requiring digital electronics manufacturers, such as laptops and smartphones, to put diagnostic and repair information available to consumers and independent repair shops.
If the government seeks to standardize USB-C in some way, it helps that many electronic devices have already voluntarily adopted it. But it’s hard to ignore the arguments that universal charging could stifle new charging techniques and be a way to stifle innovation. The EU has said it will change its policy if new charging technology is more beneficial to consumers than USB-C, but that approach is clearly far-reaching.
Depending on which products are covered by a common charger standard, this could complicate matters for companies claiming a faster, ubiquitous USB-C premium. Similarly, it could affect products that take advantage of patented technology or alternatives such as Micro USB, which may be bulkier and slower but cost less.
What is your opinion on the subject?
What do you think of the EU’s promise to have consumer technology devices equipped with USB-C by 2024? Viable or not?
Do you think it is reasonable for senators to advise the United States to take the EU as a model?