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Summary of FCC Reconsideration Decision on Wireless HAC Issue

TO: Judy Harkins
Gregg Vanderheiden
RERC on Telecommunications Access
Karen Peltz Strauss, KPS Consulting
Re: Summary of FCC Reconsideration Decision on Wireless HAC Issue

DATE: June 14, 2005

On June 9, 2005, the FCC voted unanimously to preserve most of its original July 2003 Order requiring certain wireless phones to be hearing aid compatible. That Order had required:

  • Digital phone manufacturers and carriers to each make available 2 handset models with reduced RF emissions that can achieve acoustic coupling for each air interface within 2 years (by September 2005)
  • Each nationwide (Tier 1) digital carrier to make available 2 handset models with reduced RF emissions or 25% of total number of models it offers, whichever is greater within 2 years (by September 2005)
  • Each digital manufacturer and carrier to provide 2 handset models with telecoil coupling for each air interface within 3 years (by September 2006)
  • 50% of all digital phones to meet the reduced RF emissions requirement for acoustic coupling within 5 years (by September 2008)
  • After 2008, ultimate goal, but not yet required: 100% acoustic coupling. The ability to reach goal will depend on information received through industry reports on incorporating accessibility.

The new Order approved on June 9th reaffirms the above schedule with one exception: instead of requiring each Tier 1 carrier to reduce RF emissions (and achieve acoustic coupling) on either 2 of its handset models or 25% of its total number of handset models (per interface) whichever is greater, it simply requires these carriers to either provide 4 accessible models or to make 25% of their handset models accessible (per interface) regardless of which is greater, by September 16, 2005. This requirement will increase to either 5 hearing aid compatible models or 25% of all handsets (per interface per carrier) by September 16, 2006, again regardless of which is greater. SHHH agreed to this compromise because discussions with the industry led them to conclude that industry was more likely to comply with requirements that applied to a fixed number of phones; companies felt uneasy about agreeing to a percentage instead of a known quantity. Fifty percent of all phones must still be accessible by 2008, as per the original July 2003 Order.

Other matters addressed by the FCC were:

Consumer Education -- SHHH secured a letter of commitment from CTIA promising first, that access would be incorporated in a range of handsets, from low-end to high-end prices, and second, that information about HAC accessibility would be included on the "call-out" cards (placards) that are situated next to phones in retail establishments. This latter commitment is to enable customers to easily determine the compatibility of the phones that they are considering for purchase. The FCC's Public Notice (issued at the time it voted on its Reconsideration Order) "recognizes" this industry commitment, but does not require it. SHHH also secured a promise (from Dane Snowden) that these consumer education commitments will be included in CTIA's Consumer Code for Wireless Services in the event that the companies do not comply with these promises.

In-Store Testing -- The FCC reaffirmed the requirement for live, in-store testing. This was after SHHH organized a major campaign, wherein hundreds of SHHH members called the FCC urging continuance of this requirement. In fact, the Commission went even further to approve a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that will seek comment on whether the requirement for in-store testing should extend to other types of outlets (i.e., not only those owned by the manufacturers or carriers) that sell wireless services. The FCC explained that such in-store testing, as well as "real-world" testing over 30 days and flexible return policies, both of which the FCC encouraged (though apparently did not require), were necessary to give consumers a meaningful opportunity and enough time to identify suitable phones and become comfortable with those phones.

De-Minimis Exception -- The FCC's July 2003 rules allowed carriers and manufacturers to be exempt from the HAC rules if they offered 2 or fewer handset models per interface. The FCC's new FNPRM will seek comment on reducing this exemption to only carriers and manufacturers that offer only one handset per air interface.

ANSI Standard C63.19 -- The FCC reaffirmed that use of a performance-based standard, rather than a build-to standard that applies to how equipment is manufactured, is appropriate for the HAC rules, and committed itself to reviewing future versions of the ANSI HAC wireless standard expeditiously.

Labeling -- The FCC's Order reaffirmed the original external and internal labeling requirements to enable consumers to "quickly and easily" ascertain the compatibility of wireless phones.

TDMA Carriers -- The Commission granted carriers who are replacing TDMA networks with a different technology until September 18, 2006, to complete those transitions and then comply with the HAC rules.

Reporting Requirements -- The FCC reaffirmed the reporting requirements, which, among other things, require the industry to report on testing, outreach activities, availability of compliant models, and standards setting activities, every 6 months for the first 3 years and annually in years 4 and 5 after the July 2003 order.

State Enforcement -- The FCC reaffirmed its decision to delegate authority to the states to enforce the HAC rules, while making clear that it retains jurisdiction over the technical HAC standards. In other words, states must refer questions about whether a particular device is in compliance with the FCC's technical standards to the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology.

This page last updated:June 15, 2005

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