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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12911


Mr Murphy asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 22 September 1999:

(1) Is the Minister able to say whether the impending closure of the Analogue Mobile Phone System (AMPS) is causing some hearing aid wearers to fear that they will not be able to continue in business because the CDMA system is not available outside Sydney and Melbourne.

(2) Has Telstra informed the hearing impaired of published results in relation to assessments of GSM and CDMA digital mobile phone systems: if not, why not.

(3) Will the Minister regulate for an exemption from the phaseout of the AMPS service until a mobile system can be used with teletypewriter phones and carriers have complied with the education requirements in the Analogue Closure Plan.

(4) Is the Minister able to say (a) whether GSM digital mobile phones make an unbearable noise in some hearing aids and (b) that information literature treats CDMA technology as being equal to GSM technology for the hearing impaired; if so, will the Minister's Department take action on this matter.

(5) Is it a fact that the CDMA network will not be available in several capital cities until October.

(6) Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the superior range, speech quality and noise suppression characteristics of AMPS and CDMA mobile networks compared with the GSM system; if so, will compensation be offered to the hearing impaired and rural users where disadvantage and complications have occurred.

(7) Will an appropriate education program process be included in the Analogue Phaseout Plan.

(8) Will Telstra have a competitive advantage with the introduction of CDMA equivalent to its assumed advantage of the AMPS; if so, will the Government provide equal access to the hearing impaired by maintaining the AMPS beyond 31 December 1999.

(9) Is the Minister able to say whether mobile phone carriers have passed the responsibility of mobile phones for the hearing impaired on to audiologists and the Deafness Forum of Australia; if so, what action will the Government take.

(10) Are mobile phone carriers telling the hearing impaired to buy high immunity C2 type hearing aids which cost $2,500 per aid; if so, (a) who will pay, (b) will carriers share the burden and (c) can closure of AMPS be delayed.

(11) Is the Minister able to say whether (a) Telstra is claiming that CDMA phones could be used with suitable (i) medium immunity C1 type hearing aids, (ii) hands free handsets or (iii) personal inductive coupling loops and (b) CDMA and AMPS handsets are suitable for the hearing impaired.

(12) Are hearing impaired persons entitled to unencumbered mobile phone services.

(13) Has the Minister's attention been drawn to complaints by the hearing impaired about (a) hearing aid interference on Adelaide radio stations, (b) the closure of AMPS services and (c) the delay in CDMA services for Adelaide.

(14) Is the Minister able to say whether hearing impaired mobile phone consumers are told that GSM and CDMA mobile phones will not cause interference within one metre of C1 type hearing aids.

(15) Is there is a process for regulating compliance with the new Therapeutic Goods Administration standards for electromagnetic immunity; if so, what are the requirements.

(16) Do the performance and economic reasons given for closure of the AMPS network in 1992 still exist.

(17) Will the Government review the decision to close the AMPS after consulting with mobile phone carriers.

(18) Will (a) compensation be paid for loss of access to a mobile phone system or (b) an adequate CDMA education program for the hearing impaired be funded.


Mr McGauran (Arts and the Centenary of Federation) —The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) AMPS mobile users, whether they are hearing impaired or not, will be able to use AMPS services in all areas until 31 December 1999. On that date the AMPS services in all mainland metropolitan areas and 130 regional areas will close. Telstra's CDMA network is already operational in all mainland metropolitan areas. Telstra has advised that all AMPS base stations that are due to close on 31 December 1999 now have available CDMA services. Those people who currently use the AMPS network in those areas that are scheduled to close on 31 December 1999 have between now and the end of the year in which to decide whether to migrate to the CDMA or the GSM mobile networks for their future mobile services.

(2) Assessment of hearing aid interference from CDMA phones was undertaken this year by the National Acoustics Laboratory (NAL—trading as Australian Hearing) on behalf of Telstra. The report is published and available on NAL's website at http://www.hearing.com.au/Research/index.html. The CDMA report was provided by the Department, on behalf of NAL, to the Deafness Forum, the Deafness Council of NSW and others on 1 September 1999. NAL has also published research done in 1995 entitled Interference to Hearing Aids by the Digital Mobile Telephone System, Global System for Mobile Communications, (GSM)—NAL report No.131 May, 1995. Copies of the report are available from NAL.

(3) The Minister is not in a position to regulate for an exemption from the phaseout of the AMPS. Any extension to the operation of the AMPS system requires the voluntary consent of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are all members of the Australian Communications Authority's (ACA) AMPS Closure Public Education Advisory Committee and have co-operated fully in the context of that committee.

(4) (a) The Minister understands that some hearing aids may produce a buzzing sound when in close proximity to a GSM mobile phone. There are available hands-free accessory kits which enable many hearing aid users to use a GSM phone.

(b) The Minister is not aware of the particular information literature the Honourable Member is referring to, nor in what sense the technologies are considered equal. Whilst GSM and CDMA are both digital mobile networks they are very different technologies with differing characteristics. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has, in co-operation with the ACA, the Deafness Forum and industry developed a brochure called Hearing Aids & Mobile Phones. The brochure is aimed at providing information to the hearing impaired consumer and is in the process of being updated by the ACA to include the latest research on CDMA. This brochure was widely distributed to the hearing impaired communities by organisations such as Deafness Forum and Better Hearing Australia.

(5) Telstra is progressively rolling out its CDMA infrastructure. CDMA is operational in all mainland capital cities and all AMPS areas that are scheduled to close on 31 December 1999. Telstra anticipates that CDMA will be available in Hobart by April 2000, and Darwin by October 2000.

(6) The Minister is aware of certain differences between the AMPS, CDMA and GSM mobile technologies. In an open market, such as the Australian telecommunications market, consumers will choose which mobile service best suits their needs. The AMPS phaseout arrangements will ensure existing AMPS users enjoy a reasonably equivalent digital service. There will be no compensation offered.

(7) The Government in its 1999-2000 Budget has provided the Australian Communications Authority with $630,000 to undertake an Analogue Closure Public Education Program. The Education Program is designed to inform AMPS users of the timelines and other details of the staged closure of the AMPS base stations and assist consumers to make informed decisions, particularly with respect to purchasing telecommunications products and services when migrating to the digital mobile network. The ACA has already undertaken discussion with emergency services, government bodies and consumer groups in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. The ACA has also published and widely distributed an information brochure on the AMPS network closure.

(8) In an open market, any carrier may provide mobile telecommunications services. In addition to the existing mobile carriers Hutchison Telecommunications and AAPT have announced decisions to establish CDMA networks and One.Tel is to provide GSM services. The existing and new mobile carriers will seek to achieve competitive advantage through improving service quality and prices. The Government can not maintain the AMPS network beyond 31 December 1999 except in accordance with the announced phased closure.

(9) The Government is not aware that carriers are passing the responsibility of mobile phones for the hearing impaired on to audiologists and the Deafness Forum of Australia. Carriers have been involved in a number of initiatives, in co-operation with hearing impaired representative groups and the hearing aid industry to provide more information to the hearing impaired about mobile phones.

(10) Consumers have a choice of whether to use GSM or CDMA mobile communications. Should a hearing impaired person wish to use a GSM phone, and their hearing aid is not of a standard that would allow access either with or without a hands free accessory kit, mobile carriers would be correct to advise that customer to upgrade their hearing aid to either the C1 standard in conjunction with a GSM hands free accessory kit, or to the C2 standard should the person not wish to use a hands free accessory kit.

Telstra has advised that it suggests that its hearing impaired customers determine which services and features are important before selecting the MobileNet network which best satisfies their needs, for example coverage area or international roaming to certain countries. If customers have no specific preferences, Telstra suggests that MobileNet CDMA may be the better option since it is least likely to cause interference with Hearing Aids.

(a) The hearing impaired person would pay should they decide to upgrade their hearing aid.

(b) It is a matter for the carriers whether funding assistance is given for a person's hearing aid to be upgrade.

(c) The closure of the AMPS network can not be delayed beyond the already agreed limited extension for some rural areas without the agreement of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

(11) (a) Telstra has advised that its advice to the hearing impaired reflects the results of Hearing Australia's research of hearing aids with the CDMA mobile phone. These tests indicate that many hearing impaired people will be able to use a CDMA mobile phone. Telstra has reflected these results in its comments on CDMA performance.

Hearing Australia's research indicates that:

(i) C1 standard hearing aids should be able to use the CDMA phone; and

(ii) many hearing aids, which are a lesser standard than the C1 standard, may be compatible with the CDMA phone without the use of a hands free accessory kit, however, the report does not suggest that this would apply to all hearing aids.

For those hearing aids that are not directly compatible with CDMA phones, many should be compatible if used in conjunction with a hands free accessory kit.

(iii) Currently Nokia CDMA phones have not been approved for use on Telstra's CDMA network and therefore the Nokia personal inductive loop is not currently available in Telstra shops.

(b) Based on the Hearing Australia's research, the Minister understands that the majority of hearing aid wearers are able to use the AMPS handset and that the majority should also be able to use the CDMA handset.

(12) The telecommunications industry is subject to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) in the same way that other industries in Australia are subject to the DDA. Currently the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is conducting an inquiry into whether the DDA has been breached in relation to mobile phones and people with hearing impairment. The HREOC inquiry is the appropriate forum to examine this issue.

(13) (a) The Minister is not aware of complaints about hearing aid interference on Adelaide radio stations.

(b) The Minister is aware of complaints about the closure of AMPS services.

(c) The Minister is not aware of complaints about the delay in CDMA services for Adelaide. CDMA has been operational across the greater metropolitan Adelaide area from Mallala in the north to Normanville in the south since 22 September 1999. Telstra has advised that there was no delay in its schedule to roll out CDMA to Adelaide.

(14) The Therapeutic Goods Administration has advised that a hearing aid compliant to the level of the C1 Standard should generally be immune to interference from a mobile GSM handset operated at a distance of one metre or more from the aid. The Department has passed on this information to Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for distribution to their customers. This information has also been published in the ACA's brochure Hearing Aids and Mobile Phones which is currently being distributed by the Deafness Forum and Better Hearing Australia.

(15) The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has advised that from 1 July this year, C1 Standard compliance has been required for all new products before they can be entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (the Register). Existing products already listed on the Register at that time will be allowed to be supplied until 1 July 2001. To apply for listing, a sponsor will be required to certify that the hearing aid has been tested and is in compliance with the performance requirements of the C1 Standard. Certificates of compliance and test reports are not required to be supplied at the time of application for listing, but sponsors must have them available for post-market audit if requested. A date for compliance with the C2 Standard has yet to be determined. The TGA will consult with users, suppliers and industry to ensure that compliance is achievable given existing technologies used in the manufacture of hearing aids.

(16) The reason for the closure of the analogue AMPS network is that in 1992, the then Government made a legally binding agreement with Vodafone to close the AMPS network. A breach of that agreement would almost certainly attract litigation by Vodafone exposing the Government to the significant risk of substantial compensation.

(17) Following consultation with the parties concerned, the Government agreed there will be a limited extension of the AMPS network in some areas for a period up to 31 December 2000. The Government does not intend seeking the agreement of the carriers to a further extension of AMPS mobile phone services beyond this date.

(18) (a) No compensation will be paid since reasonably equivalent access to the mobile phone system will be maintained across Australia.

(b) The Government has already funded the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to undertake an Analogue Closure Public Education Program, which is designed to inform AMPS users of the timetable and other details of the phased closure of the network. The ACA has offered limited funding to the Deafness Forum to aid its participation in the AMPS phase out education program to provide information to the hearing impaired about mobile phone use. Telstra also has advised that it is conducting its own public awareness campaign to all its AMPS customers on the closure of the network and the launching of the new CDMA network.