Why All Phones Might Soon Require USB-C In The United States

The echoes of an EU legislation that standardizes charging ports on electronic devices are now being felt in the United States. Senators Edward J. Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders have sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, asking for a plan to implement a similar strategy around charging devices. It is worth noting here that the aforementioned politicians are not specifically pushing for USB-C adoption as the charging standard for gadgets sold in the United States.

Instead, the proposal pushes for coming up with a detailed strategy for "addressing the lack of a common charger among mobile devices" in the name of consumer welfare and safeguarding the environment from the scourge of e-waste. The letter notes that discarded chargers alone account for the generation of more than 11,000 tons of e-waste each year. Citing the dilemma of an average consumer who owns three electronic devices on average, the letter claims 40% percent of consumers "report that they have been unable to locate a compatible charger to power up their device on one or more occasions."

Aside from the added financial stress of buying compatible chargers, the Democrats also highlight the environmental pollution concerns that arise from irresponsible dumping of e-waste — especially in bodies of water — and the resulting toxification. It asks the Department of Commerce to follow in the EU's footsteps and chart a course of action that will save customers the burden of forking out extra cash on charges as it ultimately aims to reduce the amount of e-waste left for future generations.

The path to charger nirvana is thorny

The lack of interoperability when it comes to charging standards in mobile electronics is one of the key items the Senators want to address in their call to action. If you'll recall, the EU legislation standardizes the USB-C port as the common charging protocol for more than just smartphones and tablets. It covers a total of 15 device categories such as consoles, digital cameras, and audio gear, all by the year 2024. Laptop makers, on the other hand, have been given a window of 40 months to prepare for the change. 

Even though the EU has clarified that the proposal wasn't meant to target Apple specifically, it would seem that the Cupertino-based tech behemoth will be bearing the biggest share of the burden. Apple, assuming it agrees, will have to ditch the lightning port on all iPhone devices in favor of a USB-C port. If – and that's a big if – the United States apes the EU draft, Apple might also have to move away from MagSafe chargers on MacBooks, which were only revived quite recently. Microsoft, too, will have to part ways with the Surface Connect port on its lineup of laptops and tablets. Making such moves will be easier said than done.

Apple has, for years, lobbied strongly against charger standardization and keeping its software ecosystem tightly closed, despite calls for antitrust scrutiny over alleged anticompetitive conduct. Right now, it is too early for a potential charger standardization reform to become a reality in the U.S. despite what legislators have indicated they'd like done as soon as possible. If the EU is any indication, this process is going to be anything but short.