In this week’s debate on the Digital Economy Bill Helen spoke out on behalf of people with hearing loss who would face possible interference from radio frequencies unless stronger duties are placed on Ofcom.
Helen spoke in support of Clause 26 which is designed to protect from frequency interference those with hearing loss who have hearing aids, radio aids, cochlear implants and other hearing technologies. Ofcom is about to sell spectrum, and there is a concern that the part of the spectrum that it is going to sell is so close to the wavelength used by such technologies that interference will be caused. Clause 26 places a duty on Ofcom to carry out tests in advance of the sale of the radio frequencies to ensure that any interference is identified and made public.
Helen asked the Minister to consider the concerns which had been raised with her by the National Deaf Children’s Society about the ongoing dispute about how the tests should be done, how the results should be interpreted and what action will be taken if the tests indicate interference. That action could take two forms: either Ofcom should not grant a wireless telegraphy licence unless action is taken to remove the risk of interference; or a fund should be established to cover the cost of replacing medical and hearing technology affected by interference. That is important for the 10 million people who suffer from hearing loss and the 45,000 deaf children in this country, and it will enable Ofcom to fulfil its duties under the Equality Act 2010.
Helen referred to her husband’s experience as a hearing aid user and the difficulty already experienced in hearing other people in a noisy environment and expressed her concern about the additional impact that mobile phones in the room could then have.
Calling the Minister’s response “inadequate” Helen went on to say:
“Interference will be a problem for children who use radio aids in the classroom to help them to hear what their teachers are saying. Unlike grown-ups, they cannot easily guess what a person is saying, because they are hearing things for the first time. The tests done in 2014 found that someone with a mobile phone using the relevant frequency could interfere with a hearing aid 4 metres away. The National Deaf Children’s Society are right to press the government for assurances that deaf people are not disadvantaged by the sale of spectrum. I urge the Minister to be flexible and to look at the matter again.”
You can access Helen’s full speech on Hansard.