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Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Announces Filing Period for Hearing Aid Compliance Certifications and New Website Posting and Record Retention Requirements

The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has recently announced the filing period for wireless service providers and wireless handset manufacturers to electronically file hearing aid compatibility certifications covering the 2018 reporting period. Wireless service providers and wireless handset manufacturers must file their certifications between September 3, 2019 and October 3, 2019. Additionally, by September 3, 2019, they must satisfy two new hearing aid compatibility requirements regarding website posting and record retention. A summary of these changes follows.

Annual Certification Requirement

The FCC hearing aid compatibility rules require wireless service providers and wireless handset manufacturers to offer hearing aid-compatible handset models to consumers and to provide information regarding the hearing aid compatibility capabilities of their handset models to consumers and the FCC. There are separate certification rules for wireless service providers and wireless handset manufacturers.

Wireless Service Providers

All wireless service providers, including de minimis wireless providers, must report annually to the FCC whether they had fully complied with the hearing aid compatibility requirements throughout the prior calendar year by filing FCC Form 855. They no longer need to file FCC Form 655. Each Form 855 must include the following information:

  • The name of the signing executive and their contact information;
  • the company(ies) covered by the certification;
  • the FCC Registration Number (FRN);
  • the web site address of the pages containing the required handset model information (for non-de minimis service providers); and
  • the percentage of handsets offered that are hearing aid compatible.

Wireless service providers will have 30 days to file Form 855. The filing portal will open on September 3, 2019, and close at midnight Eastern Daylight Time on October 3, 2019. The portal can be accessed at https://www.fcc.gov/filing-hearing-aid-compatibility-reports-and-certifications. The portal will contain a link to the form, as well as detailed instructions for completing it.

Starting in 2020, however, wireless service providers will have less than two weeks to file their certifications. The filing window will open on the first business day after January 1 of each year, and certifications covering the reporting period for the previous year will be due by January 15 of each year. If a service provider indicates that it failed to comply fully with the hearing aid compatibility requirements throughout the relevant reporting period, the provider must attach an explanation justifying its noncompliance.

Wireless Handset Manufacturers

Unlike wireless service providers, wireless handset manufacturers need only certify their “efforts towards compliance.” They must also continue to submit FCC Form 655 instead of the new Form 855 for wireless service providers. Each Form 655 must include the following information:

  • Digital wireless handset models tested, since the most recent report, for compliance with the applicable hearing aid compatibility technical ratings;
  • compliant handset models offered to service providers since the most recent report, identifying each model by marketing model name/number(s) and FCC ID number;
  • for each compliant model, the air interface(s) and frequency band(s) over which it operates, the hearing aid compatibility ratings for each frequency band and air interface under ANSI Standard C63.19, the ANSI Standard C63.19 version used, and the months in which the model was available to service providers since the most recent report;
  • non-compliant models offered to service providers since the most recent report, identifying each model by marketing model name/number(s) and FCC ID number;
  • for each non-compliant model, the air interface(s) over which it operates and the months in which the model was available to service providers since the most recent report;
  • total numbers of compliant and non-compliant models offered to service providers for each air interface as of the time of the report;
  • any instance, as of the date of the report or since the most recent report, in which multiple compliant or non-compliant devices were marketed under separate model name/numbers but constitute a single model for purposes of the hearing aid compatibility rules, identifying each device by marketing model name/number and FCC ID number;
  • status of product labeling;
  • outreach efforts; and
  • If the manufacturer maintains a public Web site, the Web site address of the page(s) containing the information regarding hearing aid-compatible handset models required by the website posting and record retention requirements discussed below.

            Form 655 is due by July 15 of each year.

Website Posting Requirements

Beginning September 3, 2019, wireless service providers and wireless handset manufacturers must comply with 47 C.F.R. § 20.19(h), which requires that they post on their website the following detailed information concerning their handsets’ hearing aid capabilities:

  • A list of all hearing aid-compatible models currently offered, the ratings of those models, and an explanation of the rating system;
  • a statement specifying, based on the levels of functionality and rating that the service provider has defined, the level that each hearing aid-compatible model falls under, as well as an explanation of how the functionality of the handsets varies at the different levels;
  • a list of all non-hearing aid-compatible handset models currently offered, including the level of functionality that each of those models falls under, an explanation of how the functionality of the handsets varies at the different levels, as well as the following link to the current FCC web page containing information about the wireless hearing aid compatibility and service providers’ obligations: https://www.fcc.gov/hearing-aid-compatibility-wireless-telephones; and
  • a link to the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative web site (http://gari.info/), which has information regarding hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible handset models or, alternatively, a clearly marked list of hearing aid-compatible handset models that have been offered in the past 24 months but are no longer offered by that provider.

Additionally, handset lists must include marketing model name/number(s) and FCC ID number of each hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible model currently offered. Finally, manufacturers and providers must update their websites within 30 days of any relevant changes, and their websites must contain a date stamp indicating when the pages were last updated.

De minimis wireless service providers are exempt from the new website posting requirements. A de minimis wireless service provider is a “manufacturer or service provider that offer[s] two or fewer digital wireless handsets.”[1]

Record Retention Requirements

As of September 3, 2019, all wireless service providers other than de minimis wireless service providers must maintain the following internal records on hearing aid compatibility handsets that they no longer offer:

  • The ratings, if applicable, of all hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible models no longer offered (if the calendar month/year that model was last offered is within 24 months of the current calendar month/year and was last offered in January 2018 or later);
  • for models no longer offered (if the calendar month/year that model was last offered is within 24 months of the current calendar month/year), the calendar months and years each hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible model was first and last offered; and
  • the marketing model name/number(s) and FCC ID number of each hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible model no longer offered (if the calendar month/year that model was last offered is within 24 months of the current calendar month/year and was last offered in January 2018 or later).

These record retention requirements do not apply to wireless handset manufacturers.

Conclusion

As summarized above, the FCC’s new certification, website posting, and record retention rules are sweeping and complex. As the FCC is now focusing more closely on ensuring that wireless handset manufacturers and wireless service providers accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing, it is critical that covered entities be aware of, and comply with their new obligations. Understanding which rules apply to wireless service providers and which ones cover wireless handset manufacturers is particularly crucial. The FCC will subject violators to steep fines and other sanctions.

Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC has experienced attorneys that can answer any questions you may have regarding these changes and help guide you through the labyrinth of these new, highly technical requirements.  

For further information, please contact Linda McReynolds, lgm@commlawgroup.com or (703) 714-1318, or Michal Nowicki, mjn@commlawgroup.com or 847-361-9403.  Mr. Nowicki, is particularly suited to serve your company’s needs when it comes to compliance with any FCC regulatory requirement impacting the disabled communication, including hearing aid compatibility, 21st-Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and other Americans with Disabilities Act matters.  Before joining our firm, Mr. Nowicki helped the National Federation of the Blind convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deny Amazon’s petition for permanent exemption from CVAA accessibility requirements for e-book readers. He has also worked closely with Comcast and DirecTV to ensure that both companies comply with FCC regulations requiring video description for the blind and visually impaired.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] 47 C.F.R. § 20.19(e).

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