Apple Urges FCC Not to Adopt Rules for Universal Compliance with Hearing Aids

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Apple urges the regulator not to adopt rules requiring universal technology compatibility between hearing aids and wireless devices and technologies (via FierceWireless).

Hearing aids hero

Congress passed Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Acts almost 30 years ago requiring that the FCC ensure all phones manufactured or imported for use in the US were compatible with hearing aids.

Apple’s iPhones comply with existing HAC rules, but the company has invested in improving accessibility by developing “a new hearing aid platform that relies on Bluetooth technology”, the filing reads. This is the Made for iPhone (MFi) program, which Apple believes represents a “substantial improvement to consumers over devices that are deemed accessible by today’s HAC rules.”

Devices that support Apple’s MFi hearing aid platform are able to deliver high-quality, power-efficient, direct audio access to services such as FaceTime, VoiceOver, Siri, turn-by-turn navigation, etc. to compatible hearing aids.

Apple’s problem in this case is that the FCC has moved to further broaden rules for hearing aid compatibility, proposing rules that would require 100% of all consumer wireless devices and technologies covered. The agency is currently seeking comments on “on a landmark consensus plan that would, for the first time, establish a consensus path to ensure that all wireless handsets are accessible to and usable by people who use hearing aid devices and cochlear implants.”

From Apple’s perspective this would prevent innovation by mandating “the lowest common denominator subset of coupling technologies that are available for existing hearing aids” and would also be impractical in a market where new devices, technologies, and services are constantly emerging.

As pointed out by FierceWireless, Apple has had its share of controversies over HAC rules in the past: it it was granted a contested exemption from hearing-aid mandates in the year the iPhone launched, and it was fined $6,000 for not filing a required compatibility status report in two years later.

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  • David

    Apple is correct. The mandated compatibility is basically that if you hold your phone up to the hearing aid, it doesn’t completely screech on you. This is worst-resort compatibility, and I never use my aids this way.

    Bluetooth connections are much better for hearing aid users, both for handling calls and for other sources of audio from phones. The problems here are:

    1) Bluetooth isn’t all that reliable. I had to return a pair of hearing aids last year because the Bluetooth adaptor was completely unreliable. Second pair worked much better but I had to give up a lot in terms of sound quality to get usable Bluetooth.

    2) Apple’s approach of connecting the iPhone directly to the aid via Bluetooth LE is great in principle, but it means that the aids are dependent on the iPhone’s mic, which means you can’t use them with work phone systems. Also, availability is still limited – I couldn’t find an aid that was powerful enough that used Apple’s direct connection.

    So yes, Apple’s right, but we really need the electronics industry to replace Bluetooth with something less prone to interference, and then we need the HAC industry to get serious about quality implementations across the board. If we do that, the stuff the FCC is concerned about won’t matter at all.