The FCC is proposing a rule that would require all wireless handheld phones to be hearing aid compatible either via Bluetooth or telecoil technology. Image: Signia AX hearing aid.
As part of its December 13 Open Meeting agenda, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that tentatively concludes that hearing aid compatibility (HAC) for 100% of wireless handset models is an achievable objective and seeks comment on proposals to implement this requirement. According to the Commission, if this NPRM is adopted at the meeting, comment due dates will be announced at a future date. (Note that "hearing aids" also include cochlear implants.)
In its November Fact Sheet, the FCC says it is bringing forward proposals raised by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) HAC Task Force, which issued its Final Report and Recommendation on December 16, 2022. The HAC Task Force is an independent organization comprised of groups representing the interests of people with hearing loss, wireless service providers, and wireless handset manufacturers. Task Force members include organizations like the Competitive Carriers Assn (CCA), Hearing Loss Assn of America (HLAA), the National Assn of the Deaf (NAD), Hearing Industries Assn (HIA), and numerous companies like Apple, AT&T, Google, Samsung, and Verizon.
The new proposed rule involves important evolving technologies and solutions that include Bluetooth standards and telecoil/induction loop systems (see the July 2022 article by HAC Task Force member Linda Kozma-Spytek, MA, Trends in Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids and Hearing Aid Compatibility for Wireless Phones).
According to the FCC, the 100% Wireless HAC NPRM would:
- Tentatively conclude that a 100% HAC requirement for wireless handset models offered in the United States is “achievable” and seeks comment on adopting a broader definition of HAC that would include the use of Bluetooth connectivity technology between handset models and hearing aids.
- Proposes to require a certain percentage of handset models to meet a Bluetooth requirement and seeks comment on whether to adopt the HAC Task Force’s suggestion that the FCC require all handset models to have at least two forms of coupling: 100% of handset models would be required to have acoustic coupling and 100% of handset models would be required to have either magnetic or wireless coupling (specifically, at least 85% would be required to have telecoil and at least 15% would be required to have Bluetooth).
- Seeks comment on whether to incorporate a specific non-proprietary Bluetooth standard into the HAC rules or to allow market conditions to decide which Bluetooth technology is used for coupling handsets to hearing aids.
- Explores ways to reach the 100% compatibility benchmark, including proposing a 24-month transition period for handset manufacturers; a 30-month transition period for nationwide service providers; and a 42-month transition period for non-nationwide service providers, and seeks comment on whether to continue to allow previously certified handset models to be grandfathered to meet the 100% benchmark or only handset models certified under the latest HAC certification standards.
- Seeks comment on several implementation issues related to the 100% HAC proposal and updates to the HAC rules, including: 1) requirements for HAC settings in covered devices; 2) revised labeling and disclosure rules; 3) revised website, record retention requirements, and reporting requirements; 4) posting of company contact information for consumers; and 5) whether the HAC rule section should be renamed to better reflect what the section covers.
FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced the tentative agenda for the December 2023 Open Meeting scheduled for 10:30 AM EST on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. The meeting will be held in the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC, 45 L Street N.E., Washington, D.C, and it will also be streamed live with open captioning at www.fcc.gov/live.