The Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) voted unanimously at its Open Meeting on September 27, 2017 to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that proposes exempting certain types of wireless providers from the hearing aid compatibility (“HAC”) reporting requirements. The NPRM outlines possible revisions to the wireless HAC rules that would “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, particularly for non-nationwide service providers.” The reporting requirements currently apply to facilities-based and reseller wireless service providers of all sizes and this rulemaking represents a prime opportunity for smaller wireless carriers to remove some burdensome reporting obligations, which have led to enforcement actions in the past. Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 45 days after publication.

Currently, section 20.19 of the Commission’s rules requires that both wireless handset manufacturers and service providers offer a minimum number or percentage of handsets that are hearing aid compatible. Additionally, service providers must submit an annual report on FCC Form 655 that includes the following information:

  • compliant handset models offered to customers since most recent report with the handset marketing model name/number and FCC ID number;
  • for each compliant model, the air interface(s) and frequency band(s) on which it operates, the HAC rating for each frequency band and air interface according to the ANSI C63.19 standard, and the months it has been available since the most recent report;
  • non-compliant handset models offered since the most recent report with the handset marketing model name/number and FCC ID number;
  • for each non-compliant model, the air interface(s) on which it operates and the months the model was available since the most recent report;
  • total number of compliant and non-compliant models offered to customers for each air interface on which the service provider operates;
  • retail availability of compliant handset models;
  • the levels of functionality into which compliant handset falls and how the service provider determined the relevant functionality;
  • status of product labeling;
  • outreach efforts; and
  • service provider public website and the website address of the page(s) with information on the compliant handset models.

The reporting rules apply to facilities-based and reseller wireless service providers of all sizes including those that fall under the de minimis exception to the HAC compliance rules, which exempt service providers that offer two or fewer wireless handsets in an air interface from compliance.

In the NPRM, the Commission notes that many entities, particularly small and rural service providers, have expressed that the amount of time needed to prepare the wireless HAC compliance report is burdensome. The Commission seeks comment on whether it should exempt non-Tier I service providers, i.e., those that do not offer nation-wide service, from the annual Form 655 reporting requirement. Alternatively, the Commission seeks comment on whether the scope of the exemption should be defined by a different carrier type or size standard. For example, the Commission raises the possibility of the exemption being based on the number of subscribers a service provider serves. (As an example, the Commission notes that in other proceedings, 500,000 subscribers is used as the appropriate number to be considered a small provider.) The NPRM also considers whether a possible reporting exemption should be made effective immediately if adopted by the Commission. In addition, the Commission seeks comment on whether it should continue to require a report from Tier I service providers that fall under the de minimis exception if it decided to eliminate such a requirement for non-Tier I providers.

The Commission asks whether it should require less frequent reporting for non-Tier I service providers if it determines that a complete exemption is not in the public interest. An alternative would be the adoption of a certification approach wherein providers would certify that they have met the deployment and reporting requirements rather than having to submit a detailed report. With regard to certification, the NPRM seeks input on the best way to implement such a model including what format should be used and what supporting information should be required, if any. The Commission also seeks comment on other possible ways to streamline or update the HAC reporting requirement for all service providers.