YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesWIRELESS INDUSTRY PLEDGES TO FIX HEARING AID TROUBLES

WIRELESS INDUSTRY PLEDGES TO FIX HEARING AID TROUBLES

WASHINGTON-The wireless telecommunications industry told the Federal Communications Commission it will work with the hearing-impaired community, hearing aid manufacturers and audiologists during the next six months to develop short-term and long-term solutions to hearing aid interference and compatibility problems posed by digital pocket telephones.

“We accept the challenge to devise a process for reaching prompt solutions that will ensure that hearing-impaired Americans who do wear hearing aids can enjoy the benefits of digital wireless technology,” stated a seven-page letter signed by AT&T Corp., the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, Northern Telecom Inc., Omnipoint Corp., the PCS 1900 Group and the Personal Communications Industry Association.

The Oct. 16 letter to FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Richard Smith follows a meeting two weeks earlier between regulators and industry officials at which time Chairman Reed Hundt directed wireless representatives to devise a plan of action to avoid the kind of hearing aid interference problems caused by digital pocket telephones in Europe.

A Hundt aide said the chairman was reviewing the proposal and did not have an immediate reaction to it.

There are 4 million hearing aid wearers in the United States and more than 2,000 personal communications services licenses being auctioned by the FCC. Some of the two cellular carriers in each market are converting from analog to digital technology as well.

The wireless telecommunications industry, sensitive to growing concerns at the FCC and in Congress about the hearing aid interference issue, does not want the government to intervene.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., was set to introduce legislation directing the FCC to launch a negotiated rulemaking on hearing aid interference several weeks ago but held back after objections from the wireless industry.

“We’re a step ahead,” said Brenda Battat, deputy executive director for Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, or SHHH, and a key figure in negotiations between the hearing aid community and the wireless industry.

But, she added, “I do not think at this time I would like to predict what the ultimate outcome is going to be. It’s still too early.” Battat said the industry proposal was more detailed than she expected and raised concerns about some of the time lines for reports from various working groups.

Federick Graefe, an attorney for Hear-It-Now, called the proposal a “smokescreen” to buy time for PCS firms to build networks. Graefe said the federal government would be reluctant to make PCS operators shut down, forcing the hearing-impaired community to deal with the problem.

Battat said digital pocket phones should have built-in hearing aid compatibility, adding that retrofitting pocket telephones with external devices such as the Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System (HATIS)-a behind-the-ear t-coil coupler with a remote microphone-and the JABRA wire connector (not t-coil compatible) are not acceptable solutions.

The two products are cited by industry as a “stepping stone to developing less obtrusive methods to maximize the hearing-impaired community’s access to digital telephones.”

Battat is working with Hear-It-Now, a group organized to lobby the FCC and Congress to make wireless telephones hearing aid compatible. The law currently exempts pocket phones from that requirement.

Hear-It-Now has come under fire by some in the industry for trying to advance the cause of Code Division Multiple Access technology, a digital wireless standard pioneered by Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego that is competing with Global System for Mobile communications technology for a multibillion dollar equipment market.

CDMA is the choice of two major PCS firms: the Sprint Corp.-cable TV venture and PCS PrimeCo L.P., a partnership of Nynex Corp., Bell Atlantic Corp., U S West Inc. and AirTouch Communications Inc. James Valentine, a major investor in North American Wireless Inc., has been a harsh critic of GSM technology. NAW has teamed with AT&T Corp. to build CDMA wireless telephony networks for PCS auction winners.

CDMA technology purportedly is less of an interference threat to hearing aids than GSM, but CDMA-unlike GSM-is unproven in the marketplace.

Though GSM pocket phones have been documented to cause interference to hearing aids in Europe, various PCS firms will deploy the technology in the United States because it works and is readily available.

Top suppliers of GSM pocket phones in Europe are L.M. Ericsson of Sweden, Nokia Corp. of Finland and Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc., the world’s largest mobile communications manufacturer.

It remains unclear whether GSM technology poses an interference threat to hearing aid wearers in this country because PCS phones here will operate at a lower power level and a higher frequency range than digital cell phones in Europe.

Moreover, sensitivity to digital radio transmissions varies according to the style and age of hearing aids.

Though shielding hearing aids has been held out as a remedy, there is some doubt whether that is possible with smaller hearing aids that fit in the ear or inside the ear.

Research on hearing aid interference at the University of Oklahoma funded by the cellular telephone industry is expected to yield initial results by year’s end and more comprehensive data by March or April.

The pro-GSM PCS 1900 Group-comprised of American Personal Communications, BellSouth Corp., Ericsson Inc., Motorola, Nokia, Nortel, Omnipoint, Pacific Bell Mobile Services, Powertel PCS Partners L.P., Siemens Stromberg-Carlson and Western Wireless Corp.-is represented by Gary Epstein, a lawyer at the Washington, D.C., law offices of Latham & Watkins. Epstein worked along side Hundt before Hundt was appointed by President Clinton to head the FCC two years ago.

Richard Smith follows a meeting two weeks earlier between regulators and industry officials at which time Chairman Reed Hundt directed wireless representatives to devise a plan of action to avoid the kind of hearing aid interference problems caused by digital pocket telephones in Europe.

A Hundt aide said the chairman was reviewing the proposal and did not have an immediate reaction to it.

There are 4 million hearing aid wearers in the United States and more than 2,000 personal communications services licenses being auctioned by the FCC. Some of the two cellular carriers in each market are converting from analog to digital technology as well.

The wireless telecommunications industry, sensitive to growing concerns at the FCC and in Congress about the hearing aid interference issue, does not want the government to intervene.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., was set to introduce legislation directing the FCC to launch a negotiated rulemaking on hearing aid interference several weeks ago but held back after objections from the wireless industry.

“We’re a step ahead,” said Brenda Battat, deputy executive director for Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, or SHHH, and a key figure in negotiations between the hearing aid community and the wireless industry.

But, she added, “I do not think at this time I would like to predict what the ultimate outcome is going to be. It’s still too early.” Battat said the industry proposal was more detailed than she expected and raised concerns about some of the time lines for reports from various working groups.

Federick Graefe, an attorney for Hear-It-Now, called the proposal a “smokescreen” to buy time for PCS firms to build networks. Graefe said the federal government would be reluctant to make PCS operators shut down, forcing the hearing-impaired community to deal with the problem.

Battat said digital pocket phones should have built-in hearing aid compatibility, adding that retrofitting pocket telephones with external devices such as the Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System (HATIS)
-a behind-the-ear t-coil coupler with a remote microphone-and the JABRA wire connector (not t-coil compatible) are not acceptable solutions.

The two products are cited by industry as a “stepping stone to developing less obtrusive methods to maximize the hearing-impaired community’s access to digital telephones.”

Battat is working with Hear-It-Now, a group organized to lobby the FCC and Congress to make wireless telephones hearing aid compatible.

Hear-It-Now has come under fire by some in the industry for trying to advance the cause of Code Division Multiple Access technology, a digital wireless standard pioneered by Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego that is competing with Global System for Mobile communications technology for a multibillion dollar equipment market.

CDMA is the choice of two major PCS firms: the Sprint Corp.-cable TV venture and PCS PrimeCo L.P., a partnership of Nynex Corp., Bell Atlantic Corp., U S West Inc. and AirTouch Communications Inc. James Valentine, a major investor in North American Wireless Inc., has been a harsh critic of GSM technology. NAW has teamed with AT&T Corp. to build CDMA wireless telephony networks for PCS auction winners.

CDMA technology purportedly is less of an interference threat to hearing aids than GSM, but CDMA-unlike GSM-is unproven in the marketplace.

Though GSM pocket phones have been documented to cause interference to hearing aids in Europe, various PCS firms will deploy the technology in the United States because it works and is readily available.

Top suppliers of GSM pocket phones in Europe are L.M. Ericsson of Sweden, Nokia Corp. of Finland and Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc., the world’s largest mobile communications manufacturer.

It remains unclear whether GSM technology poses an interference threat to hearing aid wearers in this country because PCS phones here will operate at a lower power level and a higher frequency range than digital cell phones in Europe.

Moreover, sensitivity to digital radio transmissions varies according to the style and age of hearing aids.

Though shielding hearing aids has been held out as a remedy, there is some doubt whether that is possible with smaller hearing aids that fit in the ear or inside the ear.

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