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FCC Seeks Comments on VRS Reform Proposals

Modifying VRS Compensation rates and technologies considered

As part of the effort to reform the video relay service (VRS) program—which provides communication services to those with hearing and speech disabilities—the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) seeks comment on a proposal to modify VRS compensation rates and technologies.

On Oct. 29, 2012, the FCC posted a Federal Register notice—Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals With Hearing and Speech Disabilities, Structure and Practices of the Video Relay Service Program—which seeks comments on matters related to access technology and enhanced database operations for VRS.

In June 2010, the FCC began reviewing the rates, structure and practices of the VRS program with the goal of reforming the program, which for many years had been beset by waste, fraud and abuse, the Commission says. In addition, the VRS compensation rates had “become inflated well above actual cost,” the FCC says.
Since the initial 2010 review, the FCC has acted to improve the program so that it can continue to provide services to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers including adopting measures to improve oversight to prevent fraud, waste and abuse by VRS providers.
The Federal Register notice says “the next step in these ongoing reform efforts” is the proposal enabling the FCC to “set new rates as it moves forward with the next phase of VRS reform.” To further the reform efforts, the FCC proposed to establish technological, including VRS access technology.
The FCC is considering two structural reform proposals, including the migration of all VRS access technologies to a standard, software based VRS access technology that could be used on commonly available off-the-shelf hardware as a means of furthering the Commission’s interoperability and portability goals, the document says.
The second structural reform proposal is focused on the establishment of standards for “iTRS access technology,” which is defined as “any equipment, software, or other technology issued, leased or provided by an Internet-based TRS provider that can be used to make or receive an Internet-based TRS call.” The Commission asks if the iTRS access technology application, “or key components thereof,” be open source?
The document also asks several questions, including:

  • Should the FCC should mandate use of a single application or allow development of multiple, interoperable applications?
  • Who should be responsible for application development?
  • Should the FCC develop, by contract, such an application?
  • How should the developer of the application be compensated?

The deadline for comments is Nov. 14, 2012.
Click here to access the Federal Register notice.