In November, the Commission issued a Second Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding its ongoing initiative to ensure that those with hearing disabilities will have access to digital wireless communications. 

This action comes on the heels of the Joint Consensus Plan that was submitted in June 2007 by parties representing the deaf and hard of hearing community, along with major wireless service providers and equipment manufacturers.  The Joint Consensus Plan proposed new requirements for the technical capabilities of new wireless devices, and new deadlines for the wireless industry to meet the benchmarks.  It also sought to modify the rapidly approaching  February 18, 2008 deadline for wireless carriers to offer hearing aid-compatibility in at least 50% of their products.

In the "Order" portion of the Commission’s piece, the Commission declined requests to expand to independent retailers the FCC requirement that customers be able to test the devices at the point of purchase.  The Commission also declined to require manufacturers with small product lines to come into compliance with the hearing aid requirements.  In both cases, the Commission did not find that the public record supported these requests, but agreed to seek additional comment in the NPRM stage of this proceeding.

In addition, the Commission tentatively concluded that it would adopt the Joint Consensus Plan in large measure.  In particular, the Commission is seeking comment on the adoption of eight specific revisions to the hearing aid-compatibility rules, including modifying the deployment schedule for M3 devices.  The Commission concluded that it would stay the effective date of the February 18, 2008 deadline mentioned above, until such time that it could receive comment on the proposals.  The Commission proposed to require service providers to make available M3 and T3 (or higher) rated devices on a deployment schedules running from 2008 to 2010 (for M3 devices) and 2011 (for T3 devices).

The Commission also sought comments on the Joint Consensus Plan’s proposal to require manufacturers to "refresh" their product line on a yearly basis, and to provide compatible devices that have differing levels of functionality (i.e., simple phones and smartphones).  The Commission also proposed adopting the reporting requirements set forth in the Consensus Plan.  Finally, the Commission also proposed adopting several technical standards proposed in the Plan.

Comments were due to be filed by December 21, 2007, and reply comments are due on January 7, 2008.  Should you be interested in reviewing the comments submitted in the proceeding, please let us know.   The FCC has committed to get an Order out before the February 18 deadline, which will require a very prompt turn-around by the staff in January.