FCC Eliminates Annual HAC Report; Revises HAC Web Site, Record Retention and Certification Requirements

The Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC” or “Commission”) has released a Report and Order, FCC 18-167 (“Order”), revising the reporting, web site disclosure, and record retention requirements relating to Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets. The FCC took steps to improve the information that consumers and the FCC receive about wireless hearing aid compatibility (“HAC”) by strengthening requirements that wireless service providers post handset model information on their public web sites and by requiring those providers to retain information necessary to demonstrate compliance with the FCC’s wireless HAC rules. Along with these requirements, the FCC eliminated unnecessary and outdated reporting requirements such as the annual HAC report, FCC Form 655, and replaced them with a streamlined annual certification.  Service providers will not be required to file an annual HAC report in January of 2019.

In the Order, the FCC amended and expanded the HAC web site requirements for service providers. Under the new rules, service providers will continue to comply with the existing web site requirements supplemented with additional content. In addition to the current web site requirements, all service providers that operate publicly accessible web sites (other than de minimis service providers, which remain exempt from web site requirements) will now be required to post to their web sites the following additional information:

1.    a list of all non-hearing aid-compatible handset models currently offered, including the level of functionality of those models;

 

2.    among other pieces of data, the marketing model name/number(s) and FCC ID number of each hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible handset model currently offered;

 

3.    a link to a third-party web site as designated by the Commission or Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, with information regarding hearing aid-compatible and nonhearing aid-compatible devices OR, alternatively, a clearly marked list of hearing aid- compatible devices that have been offered in the past 24 months but are no longer offered by that provider. For purposes of initial implementation, the Commission designates the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) web site as the third-party web site referred to in this portion of the rule;

 

4.    A link to the current FCC web page containing information about the wireless hearing aid compatibility rules and service providers’ obligations; and

 

5.    A “date stamp” on any web site page containing the above referenced information that indicates when the page was last updated.

Service providers must update the web site information within 30 days of any relevant changes.

Under the revised rules, service providers also must retain internal records for discontinued models, to be made available upon FCC request of:

1.    Handset model information, including the month/year each hearing aid-compatible and non-hearing aid-compatible handset model was first offered; and

 

2.    The month/year each hearing aid-compatible handset model and non-hearing aid-compatible handset was last offered for all discontinue handset models until a period of 24 months has passed from the date.

In the Order, the FCC also adopted a requirement that all service providers certify annually whether they are in full compliance with all of the FCC’s wireless hearing aid compatibility requirements. The certification with specific language must be signed by a “knowledgeable executive of the company” and must state whether the company is or is not in full compliance with all HAC requirements.  If a provider is “not in full compliance”, it must explain the non-compliance.  The FCC reasoned that this annual certification requirement will provide a “powerful incentive” for companies to formulate procedures to remain in compliance, for example, procedures to ensure that web site data is updated in a timely manner (i.e., within 30 days).

The new annual certification requirements apply to all service providers including de minimis service providers. Under this new rule, service providers will be required to file a certification by January 15 of each calendar year (except 2019) using the existing electronic interface for the FCC Form 655. The service provider also must indicate on the certification form the percentage of hearing aid-compatible wireless handsets it made available that year.

The new website disclosure, record retention and annual certification requirements will become effective thirty (30) day after publication in the Federal Register that the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) has approved these new requirements.  Service providers should begin the transition to update their web sites and internal procedures.  Once the new certification requirement is approved, the first certification will cover all of calendar year 2018. Subsequent annual certifications, starting in 2020, will be due by January 15theach year.

Given the new improved web site posting obligations, the new, streamlined certification requirements, and manufacturers’ continued submission of FCC Form 655s, the FCC concluded that it is no longer necessary to require service providers to file FCC Form 655.  Accordingly, the FCC waived, on its own motion, the requirement that service providers file the hearing aid status report currently due by January 15, 2019. 

Although service providers will no longer be required to complete the FCC Form 655, service providers still must continue to meet applicable deployment benchmarks and comply with all other HAC requirements.  For example, the FCC’s hearing aid compatibility rules still require service providers to comply with all labeling, disclosure, in-store testing, and level of functionality requirements.  The FCC will use the enhanced web site data, internal records, and annual certification to continue to assess service provider compliance.

If you have any questions, or would like to schedule a call to discuss the new requirements, please contact Greg Whiteaker at greg@hermanwhiteaker.com, Hilary Hoyle at hhoyle@hermanwhiteaker.com, or Colleen von Hollen at cvonhollen@hermanwhiteaker.com.