USB-C iPhones May Become Required by Law in the U.S. Amid New Push from Senators

Most other major smartphone brands have already completely moved to USB-C.
iPhone Charging Credit: Oasisamuel / Shutterstock
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After years of wrangling, the European Union has finally agreed to mandate USB-C as a common charging standard, and now it looks like at least some U.S. lawmakers want to take a page out of the European playbook.

According to The Verge, three high-profile U.S. Senators have penned a joint letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, calling on U.S. regulators to follow in the European Commission’s footsteps and force all smartphone manufacturers to adhere to a universal charging standard.

The letter, signed by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is urging the Commerce Department to “follow the EU’s lead by developing a comprehensive strategy to address unnecessary consumer costs, mitigate e-waste, and restore sanity and certainty to the process of purchasing new electronics.”

The trio notes that consumers are required to “frequently change their charging accessories,” resulting in both environmental harm and needless financial burdens.

This planned obsolescence is expensive and frustrating for consumers, and drives the proliferation of electronic waste (e-waste).Senators Markey, Warren, and Sanders

The letter cites a September 2021 press release from the European Commission that notes that “on average, consumers own around three mobile phone chargers, of which they use two on a regular basis,” and that around 40 percent of consumers report that they’ve been unable to charge their mobile phone “because available chargers were incompatible” (the EU report specifics 38 percent; the letter from the three Senators rounds this up to “around 40 percent”).

Innovation should benefit consumers. It should not come at their expense, saddle them with incompatible accessories, and compel them to purchase different charging equipment for each device they own.Senators Markey, Warren, and Sanders

In addition to the challenge consumers face in dealing with multiple charging standards, the Senators are concerned about the amount of waste that results from older, incompatible chargers being summarily discarded when folks buy a new smartphone — especially when switching platforms.

“Year after year, Americans pile our outdated chargers onto landfills while we shell out more money to tech companies for new ones,” Senator Markey added in a statement to The Verge. “This waste is driving consumers up the wall, and it’s driving our planet deeper into a climate crisis.”

Notably, the Senators aren’t insisting that the Commerce Department automatically copy the EU law by mandating USB-C specifically. Instead, they’re asking that the Commerce Department create “a comprehensive strategy” and develop its own standard independently. Of course, they’ll likely arrive at the same result, assuming that the world hasn’t moved on to “USB-D” or whatever’s next by the time the wheels of government finish turning.

We’re Looking at You, Apple

While the letter doesn’t call out Apple or the iPhone specifically, it’s fair to say that it’s Apple’s Lightning port that’s at the forefront of the Senators’ minds in writing this letter. Most other major smartphone brands have already completely moved to USB-C or are well on their way to doing so.

Fast charging standards are still a mess in the world of Android devices, but regulators are primarily concerned with baseline USB-C charging; manufacturers are seemingly still free to offer proprietary methods for faster charging, provided they all run over the same physical USB-C port.

Ironically, despite sticking with the Lightning port, Apple doesn’t use proprietary wired fast charging methods; iPhone charging is based entirely on the USB-C PD specification.

Nevertheless, even if the U.S. Commerce Department takes the Senators’ words to heart and begins working on this immediately, it’s not likely to matter much in the long run. Apple is reportedly already testing USB-C iPhones, and the switch to USB-C could come as soon as next year’s “iPhone 15.” By then, Apple’s entire iPad lineup will likely have already made the switch as well.

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