Europe wants to force all mobile phones to use the same charger port

Six years ago the European Union started ‘encouraging’ mobile phone makers to unite around a common charger format, but they didn’t take the hint.

The encouragement was introduced as part of an update to the Radio Equipment Directive, through which the European Commission tries to control that market. In the name of reducing waste (without detailing how) and simplifying their use, MEPs voted to mandate the move towards a universal charger port for mobile phones. At the time the EC decided nudge theory was the best place to start.

“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices,” said EU spokesperson Barbara Weiler at the time. “I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually.”

How many consumers were consulted for them to come to that conclusion is unclear, but who can honestly say they bear no emotional scars from having to switch between two or three port formats every now and then? Similarly it’s not immediately obvious what ecological benefit of a unified charger will be, since devices always come with one anyway, but what do we know?

Anyway, for all the EC’s efforts we’re still faced with the bleak situation of having to contend with up to three charger formats and, quite frankly, it won’t do. If mobile phone makers won’t respond to encouragement, it seems, then more assertive techniques are required to ensure compliance with the grand plan.

So recently there was a call to introduce common charger for all mobile phones, which noted ‘The Commission’s approach of “encouraging” industry to develop common chargers fell short of the co-legislators’ objectives. The voluntary agreements between different industry players have not yielded the desired results. A common charger should fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices, MEPs will insist.”

Now, by happy coincidence, or perhaps not, the industry is gravitating towards the USB-C format anyway, especially at the top end, so it’s presumably just a matter of time before it becomes ubiquitous. When that does happen the EU bureaucracy will be able to pat itself on the back for chalking up another win for consumers and the environment.

Europe says no to stablecoins until grey areas are gone

The European Commission and European Parliament have dealt a blow to the likes of Facebook’s Libra initiative until they can write the appropriate rules.

In a joint statement, the duo has championed the potential benefits of cryptocurrencies, but also warned of the dangers. Under current European regulations, it is not entirely clear how the emerging segment will be governed, therefore the bureaucrats are taking a firm stance before irreversible steps forward have been taken.

“As underlined by the recent report of the G7 working group dedicated to these issues, global ‘stablecoin’ projects and arrangements should not come into operation until all of these risks and concerns are properly addressed,” the statement reads.

“We re-affirm our willingness to appropriately tackle the challenges raised by these initiatives on the basis of an EU common understanding and coordinated approach.

“In view of the above, the Council and the Commission state that no global ‘stablecoin’ arrangement should begin operation in the European Union until the legal, regulatory and oversight challenges and risks have been adequately identified and addressed.”

A stablecoin is a digital current which is pegged against the price of physical assets, such as a commodity. Cryptocurrencies can then be linked to the stablecoin, in an effort to reduce price volatility. With a lack of understanding in the cryptocurrency market today, losses can be extraordinary, evident by the dramatic crash of Bitcoin in early 2018.

In theory, the stablecoin concept is logical. It provides stability to the market as it is pegged against less-volatile assets, thus creating more confidence and safety in digital currencies. But as with everything new, the list of unknowns is far greater than the list of knowns. When dealing with people’s money, bureaucrats tend to side with caution.

Although this will certainly slow the development of cryptocurrency almost to standstill, it is perhaps necessary. The technology industry has demonstrated time and time again it is not responsible enough to manage innovation or self-regulate. The last decade has seen numerous examples of what happens when a technology drives forward too quickly without paying consideration to the ‘law of unintended consequences’; just look at the Cambridge Analytica scandal for evidence.

The European Union and European Parliament are calling for a pause for thought, to create a globalised, evidence-based approach for a regulatory and oversight mechanism. The duo wants to ensure appropriate standards of consumer protection and orderly monetary and financial conditions are in place before the industry is allowed to run free.

The idea of stablecoins are of course a good thing. The potential for convenient, fast, efficient and inexpensive payments, especially cross-border, is evident, though such a sensitive segment as digital finance needs to be managed appropriately.

Europe bottles it over pan-European content plans

MEPs in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee has approved a watered down version of its pan-European TV ambitions in what some might assume is a result of lobbyist pressure.

Back in May, Europe made some strides towards creating a pan-European TV market, attempting to reform the IP process which would allow OTT service subscribers to access their subscriptions when abroad. It was an unusually logical move from the usually illogical bureaucrats, but it appears it is nothing that special after all.

“The chance to create a European audience was missed,” said German MEP Tiemo Wölken. “Conservative forces put the interests of Big Players over the interests of millions of European citizens in an irrational, unbalanced way. Under the pretext of cultural diversity European Broadcasters are refrained from adapting to the digital age.”

Under the new rules broadcasters will be able to make online news and current affairs content for audiences in other EU countries. These programmes may include content protected by copyright which currently cannot be cleared in a short time-frame for each and every country.

It is a step forward, but certainly not as big of one which many in the industry were hoping for. In terms of any form of entertainment, movies or TV series for example, this content would be subject to the rules as they stand, with broadcasters having to clear in each territory. The power remains in the hands of the content-owners, and the rules remain in the analogue age.

As you can imagine, numerous explanations were offered as reason for the new rules falling short, IP law is immensely complicated and reforming any rules which take into account 28 member states would also be immensely complicated, but some might assume this is not the reason. Some might come to the conclusion rule-makers have had their ears bent in all sorts of directions by lobbyists, and they went the direction of the one which pulled the hardest. Of course, this is only assumption, and any evidence of the power of lobbyists is only rumour.

The parliamentary committee could not come to an agreement on the rules for all content, thus only news and current affairs will be opened up. Some other people might also argue that news and current affairs content is already available in other countries, therefore MEPs have done little but talk over the last couple of months.

Telecoms.com will naturally keep its opinions to itself to allow you to make up your own mind, but we will be in touch with our MEP to seek a recommendation for lunch tomorrow.