The FCC wants to ensure that those with hearing loss have as much access to the latest cell phones as those without hearing loss. That’s why the agency wants to update its standards to ensure new wireless handsets are compatible with hearing aids.
Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday to advance a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on whether the agency should update those technical standards, based on American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 2019 requirements.
Current rules are based on 2011 specifications.
“Any of us just want to pick up the phone and get an answer to a question,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr, who visited Gallaudet College to research the issue. “It’s not always easy, however, for those using hearing aids.”
“The radio frequencies on which mobile phones transmit can cause interference,” or impair the volume control or the perceived volume and sound of the call, he said. “It’s common for the low frequencies to drop off, making a call sound tinny or tough to follow,” he added. The agency proposes to address many of those issues with the NPRM, he explained during the vote.
The standard will help ensure new 5G cell phones are hearing aid compliant and include volume control specifications that improve call quality. For the first time, it will harmonize the European and American tests for RF interference to hearing aids and eliminate duplicative reviews. The efficiency should result in lower costs per hearing aid for manufacturers and users, according to the FCC.
During a proposed two-year transition period, handsets could be tested for compatibility under either the 2011 ANSI standard that is currently in the rules or the new 2019 ANSI standard. The Commission also proposes to adjust its current volume control deadline to coincide with the end of the transition period.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief