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October 7, 2003

FCC: Cell phones must work with hearing aids

From: Consumer Reports - Oct 7, 2003

The six million people who use a hearing aid or have cochlear implants have always had trouble using digital cell phones, the type that accounts for 90 percent of the market. These phones emit a type of electromagnetic energy that interferes with the operation of hearing aids. Older analog cell phones don’t.

Recognizing that change in the market, the Federal Communications Commission in mid-July 2003 ordered the cell phone industry to help out the hard-of-hearing, although gradually.

Within two years, cell-phone manufacturers and service carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile must offer at least two phones with reduced interference for each type of cellular technology used, or ensure that one-fourth of phones the carriers sell produce less interference.

One year later, manufacturers and carriers will have to provide some phones with telecoil coupling capability so that they will work with certain types of hearing aids. About 25 percent of hearing aids contain telecoils, magnetic devices that pick up voice signals.

The FCC’s final milestone is February 2008, when half of all digital cell phones offered must produce less interference.

The National Association of the Deaf, a private, nonprofit organization, says it applauds the FCC’s ruling but is concerned that the industry was given too much time to comply. “In 2008 the wireless industry will probably have moved on to different technologies and the FCC order could very well be outdated by then,” says Kelby N. Brick, associate executive director of the organization.

Copyright © 2000-2003 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.