T-Mobile USA has been fined $819,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for violating federal laws mandating that a minimum number of cell phone models that are compatible with hearing aids must be offered for sale to consumers by phone companies.
The agency announced the penalty on Aug. 27 following an investigation into the company's practices.
"We enforce hearing aid compatibility requirements to ensure that consumers with hearing loss have access to advanced telecommunications services," the FCC said in its notice about the fine. "In adopting the hearing aid compatibility rules, we underscored the strong and immediate need for such access, stressing that individuals with hearing loss should not be denied the public safety and convenience benefits of digital wireless telephony."
Such rules have been in place for almost a decade, according to the FCC, and T-Mobile USA "failed to provide the minimum number of hearing aid-compatible handset models required under the rules during calendar years 2009 and 2010." The company "willfully and repeatedly violated" the laws that described the requirements, the agency said.
T-Mobile did not dispute the charges, according to the FCC, but the company did seek a lower fine, which the FCC refused to modify.
"T-Mobile is currently reviewing the FCC's Order," T-Mobile told eWEEK in a statement. "We provide a broad selection of handsets that are hearing aid compatible and we take seriously our commitment to meeting the accessibility needs of our customers. This action relates to issues that first were raised by the Commission several years ago, and we are now in full compliance."
According to the FCC, the company failed to offer to consumers a minimum number of cell phones that worked well with hearing aids. Under the agency's rules at the time of the violations, at least 50 percent of T-Mobile's phone offerings had to include accommodations for M3 acoustic coupling mechanisms for hearing aids, and 50 percent of the offerings had to meet the requirements for T3 inductive coupling mechanisms. The minimum number of phone models that were required varied between 2009 to 2010 under the rules.
Earlier this week, T-Mobile announced that its customers will soon be able to get their hands on new smartphone models from HTC and Alcatel as the HTC One M8 for Windows and Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 and Evolve 2 models arrive for sale in the coming weeks. T-Mobile now joins Verizon Wireless and AT&T in offering the phones to users, after those companies announced the upcoming model back on Aug. 20.
It's been a busy month for T-Mobile. On Aug. 25, the company announced that customers of its existing $40 monthly Simple Starter cellular phone plans could quadruple the amount of data they can use—from 500MB up to 2GB—for an additional $5 per month. The new 2GB data offer is a limited-time promotion, and followed another limited-time data promotion that was unveiled earlier in August, when T-Mobile offered free unlimited mobile data for one year to any Simple Choice customer who gets a friend or relative to move his or her service from Sprint, AT&T or Verizon Wireless. The new offer for 2GB of data for Simple Starter customers begins on Sept. 3, according to the company. There are no contracts for customers under the plans.
T-Mobile unveiled the Simple Starter plan in April with the promise of no overage fees ever, according to an earlier eWEEK report. After 500MB, customers are pushed to a slower network.
The moves all follow a strategy the company has been taking since the failed merger possibility with Sprint was scuttled by Sprint earlier this month. At the same time that the merger plans were dropped, competitor Sprint simultaneously replaced its CEO, Dan Hesse, with Marcelo Claure.
In the aftermath of the failed merger, T-Mobile has been going on the offensive for new customers, which it primarily hopes to poach from its biggest rivals: Sprint, AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Earlier this month, T-Mobile US claimed rights to the top spot in the growing prepaid wireless marketplace in the United States. T-Mobile US said in an announcement that it now has 15.64 million prepaid wireless customers, compared with 15.19 million such customers for rival Sprint. AT&T has 11.34 million prepaid customers, while Verizon Wireless reports 6.04 million prepaid customers, according to T-Mobile.