YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesHUNDT WARNS GOVERNMENT MAY STEP IN ON HEARING AID PROBLEMS

HUNDT WARNS GOVERNMENT MAY STEP IN ON HEARING AID PROBLEMS

WASHINGTON-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt, appearing to retreat from recent comments in which he suggested support for a marketplace solution to hearing aid interference from pocket phones, warned that the FCC might intervene if wireless industry and hearing impaired representatives fail to fix the problem.

“Marketplace competition will not all by itself give us all that we desire from the communications revolution,” said Hundt at the Hearing Aid Compatibility and Access to Digital Wireless Telecommunications Summit Meeting here last week. “No one here should assume that the FCC would necessarily issue rules that gratify their wishes.”

However, the FCC chairman also stressed the agency will neither halt the auction of personal communications services licenses nor mandate a single technical standard for digital phones while the hearing impaired community and wireless industry attempt to remedy hearing aid interference from phones.

Representatives of the nation’s 5 million hearing aid users fear that if the interference problem is not fixed before new PCS systems are built throughout the country, the government will lose leverage to force carriers and manufacturers to integrate compatibility into the phones.

Self Help for Hard of Hearing People and the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf say retrofitting phones with external devices represents only a short-term solution. Hearing disability advocates were initially concerned that the meeting’s agenda was biased in favor of the wireless telecommunications industry, but said they were pleased with the progress made during the two-day gathering.

“I think people listened to us and that our points were well taken,” said Donna Sorkin, executive director of SHHH. SHHH and the Alexander Graham Bell group are on a steering committee that also includes the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the Personal Communications Industry Association, the American Academy of Audiology and a collection of equipment manufacturers and carriers associated with Global System for Mobile communications technology. Various working groups will report back to the steering committee with recommendations in 60 days. The committee will then submit a final report to the FCC.

GSM phones can create a harsh buzzing sound to hearing aids, a problem addressed in Europe and elsewhere only after digital pocket phone systems were constructed.

While GSM phones operate at higher power levels overseas than in the United States, phones operating on the GSM personal communications network launched in Washington, D.C.-Baltimore two months ago by Sprint Spectrum also can disrupt behind-the-ear hearing aids.

One faction linked to hearing impaired representatives said it will ask the FCC this week to require GSM phones to carry labels warning of hearing aid interference and seek further support from Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.).

GSM advocates assert the hearing aid issue is being manipulated by Code Division Multiple Access backers in an effort to undermine GSM equipment sales in the United States. CDMA proponents claim its technology causes little, if any, interference to hearing aids.

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