Form 655’s are due January 15, 2014.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reminded wireless service providers – including resellers – that their hearing aid compatibility (HAC) reports (Form 655) are due to be filed by January 15, 2014. Since failure to file can lead to costly fines – starting at $6K per violation – it’s a good idea to get those reports in on time.

As a component of the FCC’s effort to assure that folks with hearing loss are afforded the safety and convenience benefits of wireless telephony, wireless service providers and handset manufacturers are subject to certain requirements: a minimum number of hearing aid-compatible handset models must be offered and/or a minimum percentage of all their models must be hearing aid-compatible, depending on a complex formula. Failure to meet the minimum requirements can net you a $15,000 penalty per month for each handset you’re short. (Hearing aid compatibility is rated on numerical scales that reflect how well the handset couples to hearing aids with a minimum of buzzing or other interference to the hearing aids.)

To help the FCC police compliance with that requirement, wireless service providers and manufacturers must submit annual status reports demonstrating (at least ideally) that they are meeting the minimum. Reports from wireless providers are due in January; manufacturers’ reports are due in July.

The Bureau emphasizes that the reports are expected to be accurate – meaning that providers should take extra care to ensure their accuracy. Apparently there have been some problems on that front historically. One common mistake involves reporting only handset models that have been “sold”, as opposed to models that were “offered”. (The rule expressly requires the latter.) Other errors the Bureau “regularly” finds involve model names, FCC ID’s and hearing aid compatibility ratings.

The FCC means business when it comes to the HAC requirements. Since 2007 it has issued more than $4.3 million in proposed fines against wireless service providers, including more than $1.4 million last year alone. And because the Commission monitors compliance through providers’ annual reports, the agency places a high priority on making sure those reports are filed, and filed accurately. (It also expects providers to amend their reports if any errors are discovered after the reports have been filed.)

Before you conclude that you’re not subject to the reporting requirement, be advised that the Commission takes an expansive view, extending the requirement even to non-obvious vendors, such as convenience stores that happen to offer cell phones with prepaid minutes to their patrons – along with Big Gulps, hot dogs and energy drinks. According to the FCC, by offering such phones those stores make themselves “resellers of wireless services” and, thus, subject to the HAC requirements.

In 2010 the FCC issued official citations to both 7-Eleven and Circle K for failing to file annual HAC status reports. Not surprisingly, both companies objected to the notion that they were subject to the requirement at all. Those objections have not been finally resolved because of a technicality: because the FCC hadn’t bothered to publish a notice in the Federal Register concerning the effectiveness of the reporting requirement, the Commission could not penalize anybody for failing to comply with that requirement. 

That oversight has since been corrected, and the reporting requirement is in full force and effect. The deadline for filing this year’s reports is fast approaching. Now would be a good time to confirm that that chore has been, or is being, tended to.