Foster Campell

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner

Campbell: Standardize Cellphone Chargers

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It’s a simple idea. So simple it makes you wonder when it will become a reality.
The idea is a standardized charger for all cellular telephones. Every time you buy a new cellphone, you have to purchase new home and auto chargers to power your phone. This is because the chargers that fit your old telephone do not fit the new unit.
If you’re like me, you have a drawer full of old cellphone chargers at home. I keep them because they work fine; they just don’t work on my current telephone.
As a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission I have added my voice to the growing list of elected officials, consumer advocates and industry watchers calling for the cellular industry to standardize home and auto chargers. In March the Louisiana PSC unanimously approved my resolution urging the Federal Communications Commission to require cellphone manufacturers to adopt a universal charger technology.
Last December the European Union persuaded 14 phone manufacturers to standardize charging devices. A BBC News report said the common chargers would be based on micro-USB technology (similar to Universal Service Bus ports on your computer) and “could see the end of proprietary power ports on handsets.”
That last phrase offers a clue as to why chargers haven’t been standardized. I have been told by an industry insider that your typical phone charger costs $4 to make. At the local phone store it can cost $30 or more to purchase. That’s a huge mark-up.
The desire of consumers to constantly upgrade their phones or their need to replace broken handsets opens the door for sale of overpriced chargers. Next thing you know, you have another set of incompatible chargers to put in that drawer or toss in the trash. Either way, it’s a waste.
Think of how handy it would be for travelers to find a standard charging outlet in their hotel rooms or even on airplanes. So many people leave cellphone chargers in hotel rooms that the hotel industry has a term for the leftovers: “black spaghetti.”

The industry is hearing the criticism and responding, however slowly. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association told the FCC in April that it supports a “common format” for wireless chargers and has agreed to the micro-USB connector advanced by the European Union. CTIA said its target date for implementation of this new charging format was January 2012.
Apple, hard at work on the iPhone 5, is said to be developing an iPhone 6 for 2012 that would feature wireless recharging.
AT&T says a “universal charging solution” is in the works that will simplify charging for cellular users worldwide and save energy as well. AT&T Louisiana President Sonia Perez, in a letter to me in January, said the objective is for the worldwide mobile industry to adopt a “common format for mobile phone charger connections and energy-efficient chargers, which will reduce standby energy consumption, eliminate duplicate chargers, and enhance the end-user experience for mobile customers.” Echoing the CTIA commitment, Ms. Perez said January 2012 is the date this Universal Charging Solution would be widely available worldwide.
In the interim, the company is marketing a “Zero Charger.” Ms. Perez said this charger features a “block and cable” design for “maximum interchangeability, allowing our customers to use the same charger for future handsets.” She said it also cuts off when the phone is fully charged, thus saving energy.
These are positive steps toward a true universal charger for cellular phones. Just the same, when Ms. Perez and her AT&T colleagues appear before the LPSC this month to ask our approval of their $39-billion merger with T-Mobile, I will seek a commitment that all cellphones marketed by AT&T and T-Mobile share a common charger.

At that point we will see if there is room in a $39-billion deal for a simple idea like a universal cellphone charger.