Court sides with FCC in handset rules

A federal appeals court on Friday sided with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against three small wireless companies fighting against the agency’s rules.

The phone companies wanted the court to waive a mandate requiring them to provide phones that were compatible with hearing aids, claiming that it was impossible to comply within the FCC’s narrow timeframe. The handsets were not widely available by the September 2006 deadline, they say, and the FCC erred in not granting waivers to them as it did to other wireless carriers.

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A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit disagreed with their protests and upheld the commission’s order. 

The three companies challenging the rules were Blanca Telephone, CTC Telecom and Farmers Cellular Telephone.

In 1988, Congress passed a law requiring phone handsets to work for people with hearing aids. In 2003, the FCC extended that requirement to wireless phone companies.

The commission set a September 2006 deadline for companies to comply. Manufacturers were slow to develop models that complied with the rules, though, so many cellphone service providers, especially small ones, were not able meet the deadline.

The FCC approved a waiver for many of the smaller companies that showed “reasonable diligence” to comply, but not the three challengers. The FCC claimed that the companies did not comply with the law by Jan. 1, 2007, as other firms did, and also did not do enough to try to comply.

“Because the three petitioners did not comply until after January 1, 2007, and because they reported to the Commission that they had done nothing to seek out compliant telephones beyond contacting their existing suppliers, the petitioners failed to satisfy either of the FCC’s reasonable criteria for waiver,” Judge Merrick Garland wrote in the decision.

“Accordingly, the FCC’s decision to deny the waiver petitions would appear to be reasonable as well.”

The three companies adopted the new handsets at various points in 2007.