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FCC Seeks Hearing-Impairment Certification From Those Who Want to Use Relay Services

Misuse could bankrupt the telecommunications relay service fund

In an effort to keep the U.S. government’s communications’ captioning service from going bankrupt because of misuse, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a proposed regulation that requires users of the program to prove they are hearing impaired.

On Jan, 24, 2013, the FCC adopted the regulation—Misuse of Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service Telecommunication Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities—“to address certain practices related to the provision and marketing of (the) Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service” that “constitute a serious threat” to the solvency of the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund.

The IP CTS program permits those who can speak—but who have difficulty hearing over the telephone—to use telecommunications relay services to talk directly to a third party who relays the message and who sends responses to the hearing impaired individual in written text over a closed caption type device.

The costs for using the IP CTS are not directly charged to the user, but rather are passed on to all consumers of telecommunications, and voice-over-Internet protocol providers are reimbursed from the TRS fund. During 2012, the IP CTS has experienced “unprecedented and unusually rapid growth” including a usage spike in October that caused the system to exceed the budget for that month by $4 million.

The FCC says the “growth” in TRS use “is being caused by the offering of incentives for referrals to use this service, as well as usage of this service by people without a hearing loss that necessitates the use of IP CTS to communicate.”

The rule says, “If unchecked, this growth threatens, in the very near term, to overwhelm the fund. Because all forms of TRS are supported through one fund [including video relay services], this puts all forms of TRS in jeopardy, and threatens to deprive people who are deaf or hard of hearing of the benefits of the program.”

Therefore, in order for IP CTS providers to be compensated from the fund they must register all new IP CTS user and obtain from each user a “self-certification that the user has a hearing loss that necessitates IP CTS” communication services.

In addition, if a user obtains IP CTS equipment at a price below $75 from any source other than a government program, they must obtain a certificate from a third party professional “attesting” to the acquisition.

The rule also prohibits “all referrals for rewards programs” that encourage subscriptions to, or use of, IP CTS.

The FCC is accepting comments on the proposed rule, and the deadline for comments is 21 days after being posted on the Federal Register. However, that had not occurred yet when this story was posted on the Government Video website.