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FCC: Mobile must be hearing-aid compatible

Half of all cell phones offered in the United States will have to be compatible with hearing aids by early 2008, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously ruled Thursday.

July 11, 2003, 6:45 AM PT

About one in 10 people in the United States is hearing-impaired, and 6 million use hearing aids or cochlear implants--devices that restore some hearing to deaf people. Hearing-impaired users often experience interference and lost phone connections when using wireless phones.

The agency cut a 15-year-old exemption for the industry and ordered that within two years handset manufacturers must offer, and carriers must sell, two mobile phone models that cut down on interference.

In 2006, the manufacturers and carriers also must offer two phones that work with hearing devices that use telecoil coupling, a technology that is in about 25 percent of hearing aids, according to the FCC.

The FCC voted to require half of all mobile telephone handsets to comply with reduced radio frequency emissions by Feb. 18, 2008, making them work better with hearing aids.

"We need to increase access so that (the hearing impaired) can reap the benefits of wireless phones, which some of us can't live without," FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said at the agency's monthly open meeting.

The FCC also encouraged the industry to offer at least one low-priced hearing aid-compatible handset and another model that offers more expensive features.

The trade group that represents some of the biggest wireless carriers said it was unhappy with the FCC's decision because the standard applied to the wireless industry was not imposed on hearing aid manufacturers.

"Today's FCC mandates will unnecessarily complicate this cooperation and constrain innovative solutions to meet this challenge," said Tom Wheeler, CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

The group noted that hearing aids also interfere with computer monitors, fluorescent lights and high-definition televisions.

Story Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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