On November 1, 2012 the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking to update its record on the effectiveness of hearing aid compatibility rules applicable to digital wireless services and handsets. The Commission needs to refresh the record in light of market, technical and regulatory developments that have taken place in the nearly two years since it initiated its comprehensive review of the HAC rules. The current inquiry falls into two broad categories: first, the FCC is seeking to update the record on the adequacy of technical standards for evaluating the hearing aid compatibility wireless handsets; second, the Commission seeks “specific, quantifiable” information about the costs and burdens of the current reporting and enforcement regime, particularly the burdens imposed on smaller providers.
Under the current rules, all manufacturers and service providers, whether small providers or major national and regional carriers, must provide the same information each year about what handsets they offer and the hearing aid compatibility ratings of those handsets. Based on these required annual reports, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has referred numerous cases to the Enforcement Bureau for failures to offer a sufficient number of hearing aid compatible handsets in any given month. The Enforcement Bureau has, over time, increased the potential forfeiture amounts for failing to offer the requisite number of hearing aid compatible handsets. Currently, the Bureau will impose a base forfeiture of for shortfalls of $15,000 per handset per month.
Another issue that has arisen in enforcement proceedings is the burden of finding reliable information about the technical ratings of handsets. The Enforcement Bureau will impose forfeiture penalties where a service provider relied on information provided by a manufacturer that is inconsistent with information presented in an original equipment authorization application. Service providers have argued that researching equipment authorization records to discover hearing aid compatibility technical information is burdensome and difficult, and the FCC itself has stated that these records are not presented in a way that would be helpful to consumers. Nonetheless, service providers are faced with severe penalties if they rely to their detriment on inconsistent information they obtain directly from a handset manufacturer.
In the current inquiry, the FCC wants to know how its reporting and enforcement regime affects smaller providers and whether changes in the market have either posed or relieved challenges to these providers.
The Commission also seeks comment on technical standards and thresholds for classifying handsets as hearing aid compatible in light of the adoption of a revised ANSI Standard as the applicable technical standard for evaluating the hearing aid compatibility of wireless phones and the increasing numbers of digital handsets equipped with telecoils.
Comments will be due within 30 days of the publication of the Public Notice in the Federal Register. A copy of the FCC’s Public Notice can be found here: https://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/result.do?rpt=full.
Clients with questions about this proceeding, the FCC’s hearing aid compatibility reporting and enforcement regime, or details about the technical standards currently in place should contact the attorney responsible for their account.