FCC Seeks Comment on HAC Task Force Report

On March 23, 2022, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau released a Public Notice seeking comment on the Hearing Aid Compatibility Task Force’s Final Report and Recommendation (“Report”).  You may recall that in the 2016 Hearing Compatibility Report and Order, the Commission increased the hearing aid compatibility benchmarks from 66% to 85% and committed to pursuing 100% hearing aid compatibility to the extent achievable.  The Commission stated it would decide by 2024 whether to require 100% of covered wireless handsets to be hearing aid-compatible.  With that goal in mind, the Commission asked stakeholders to convene an independent task force to issue a report to the Commission to help inform the agency on whether 100% hearing aid compatibility is achievable.  The Task Force filed its final Report in December.  The Report makes five central recommendations, which the Commission seeks comment on:

  1. Revised Definition of Hearing Aid Compatibility: The Report recommends that the Commission revise the definition of hearing aid compatibility to the following, more “flexible” definition: “A hearing aid compatible wireless handset (a) has an internal means for compatibility (b) that meets established technical standards for hearing aid coupling or compatibility, and (c) is usable.”  Moreover, the Task Force recommends the Commission consider “ease-of-use, reliability, industry adoption, and consumer use and adoption when evaluating what technical standards meet” the proposed definition.  The Notice seeks comment on whether there is a specific technical standard that should be included in the definition, or whether a more general statement referencing established standards is consistent with the APA.
  2. Adjusting the Technical Standards: The Report recommends that the Commission adjust the technical standards in the hearing aid compatibility rules utilizing:
    • A short-term waiver of the current transition to the 2019 ANSI Standard.  ATIS has filed a petition for waiver of the volume control test, and the Notice seeks comment on what impact waiver of the volume control requirement would have on the rest of the recommendations in the Report.
    • “Medium-term” adjustments to the deployment benchmarks, including reaching 100% compatibility utilizing Bluetooth as an alternative coupling method.  Specifically, the Report recommends the following benchmarks for manufacturers and service providers (required four and five years form the effective date of any new Commission Order):
      1. 100% of wireless handsets passing the RF Immunity Test (acoustic coupling) in the 2019 ANSI Standard;
      2. 100% magnetic/wireless coupling, as follows:
        • at least 85% passing the telecoil (T-Coil) Test in the 2019 ANSI Standard. Any handsets that do not pass the T-Coil test must include Bluetooth coupling capability; and
        • at least 15% including Bluetooth coupling capability. Any handsets that do not support Bluetooth must pass the T-Coil Test.
        • The Report also recommends an adjusted volume control testing methodology that accomplishes the goal of increased amplification and reflects modern wireless handset technologies and operation.
        • The FCC seeks comment on these recommendations, specifically seeking comment on how the FCC could include Bluetooth as a coupling method as no HAC standards currently include Bluetooth as an approved coupling method.
  1. Exploring Alternative Technologies: The Report recommends that the Commission allow for additional exploration of increased reliance on Bluetooth and other alternatives with related decreasing reliance on magnetic coupling.
  2. Allowing Providers to Legally Rely on Information Linked in the Commission’s Accessibility Clearinghouse: The Report recommends that the Commission allow service providers to legally rely on information linked to in the Commission’s Accessibility Clearinghouse to determine whether a handset is hearing aid compatible when calculating their deployment percentages for the purposes of meeting applicable benchmarks.  Specifically, the Report notes providers should be able to rely on information reported in the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) database when determining whether a handset is hearing aid compatible, rather than relying on FCC Form 655 reports filed by manufacturers.  The Report also recommends that the Commission adopt a safe harbor for providers who rely on the GARI database and that the Commission automatically upload manufacturers’ Form 655 reports to the Accessibility Clearinghouse after they are submitted.  The Notice seeks comment on this proposal, including how the FCC can ensure the information in the GARI database is accurate and whether it is necessary to upload the Form 655 reports to the Accessibility Clearinghouse website given the Commission already posts these reports on the wireless hearing aid compatibility website.
  3. Instituting a 90-day Shot Clock to Resolve Petitions for Waiver of HAC Requirements: The Report recommends that the Commission institute a 90-day shot clock for the resolution of petitions for waiver of hearing aid compatibility requirements, which would include a public notice comment cycle.

Comments must be filed by Monday, April 24th, 2023.  Reply comments must be filed by Monday, May 8th, 2023.

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