WASHINGTON-Negotiations have broken down between hearing impaired advocates and the wireless telecommunications industry on permanently resolving interference to hearing aids by digital pocket phones, raising the possibility of government intervention.
Each side filed its own proposal with the Federal Communications Commission last week on short-and long-term remedies to hearing aid interference.
“Notwithstanding the commitment of Pacific Bell and Ericcson, we remain without a specific commitment from the wireless industry as a whole that long-term changes in the wireless telephone equipment will take place,” said Susan Coffman, director of Professional Programs and Services at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Donna Sorkin, executive director for Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, in a letter to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.
Pacific Bell Mobile Services, Ericcson Inc. and SHHH are developing and testing interim solutions to hearing aid interference created by digital phones.
Representatives of the nation’s 5 million hearing aid users said add-on devices to help pocket phones reduce interference to hearing aids are short-term solutions and that a long-term answer must involve a change in the design of phones.
A petition pending before the FCC would require wireless telephones to be hearing aid compatible.
The FCC’s Hundt has deferred action on the filing in hopes that an agreement could be reached between the hearing impaired community and the wireless industry. Initiatives have been floated in Congress to address the interference issue.
Consensus was reached on provisions for educational programs and further research. Studies are now ongoing at the University of Oklahoma, with recent research indicating different digital technologies can cause interference to hearing aids in extreme settings.
“In large measure, the inability of the industry to provide all of the solutions requested by the consumer representatives is due to the state of existing technology,” stated the wireless industry.
The industry cited disagreements with hearing aid advocates on the latter’s insistence to provide universal, built-in telecoil compatibility; to integrate built-in hearing compatibility in digital wireless telephones; to resolve bystander interference to existing hearing aids within a set time frame (the industry pointed to recent research indicating bystander interference is not a problem unless phones are within two feet of hearing aid users); and for the wireless industry to contribute to a fund to finance replacements or retrofits of hearing aids.
The Personal Communications Industry Association, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and proponents of Global System for Mobile communications technology contributed to the industry report.