Breaking News: FCC Issues New Order on Captioned Telephones

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Breaking News: FCC Issues New Order on Captioned Telephones

Tue, 01/29/2013

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an emergency Order regarding Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Services (IP CTS).

The FCC is alarmed that usage of IP CTS has risen dramatically. They are concerned that the fund which serves all Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) will run short this year if they do not do something immediately.

HLAA has made multiple visits to the FCC to provide them with information about the people who use IP CTS. We believe that there are many people with hearing loss who need and are well served by IP CTS. HLAA has said for years that there is a great untapped market for this service, a huge number of people who could benefit from it but who have never even heard of CTS. We look to the FCC to ensure all those baby boomers who are aging into their hearing loss and can no longer use an amplified phone will be well served by CTS in the coming years.

HLAA has also notified the FCC that we believe that an emergency Order is not the best way to gather the information needed to understand why the minutes for IP CTS have increased so dramatically, and what should be done to ensure the integrity of the TRS fund going forward. We believe the normal notice and comment cycle is the appropriate way to approach issues such as this.

No one disagrees with the FCC that the integrity of the TRS fund must be maintained. But HLAA believes that the FCC should be cautious about acting before we know whether there has been any misuse, and if so, exactly what kind of misuse has been occurring so we can work together to solve any problems. Without hard information, we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Part of the Order will take effect as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register and stay in effect for 180 days. The FCC also issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, giving stakeholders a chance to respond to the proposed changes and create a record to determine which of the rules in the emergency Order will remain in effect.  HLAA does plan to file formal comments. We need your comments too.

What does the Order and NPRM say? In their own words…

The FCC has summarized the Order and NPRM as follows:

On January 25, 2013, the FCC released an interim Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to address certain practices related to the provision and marketing of Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS).

This released item is a rulemaking proceeding in CG Docket Nos. 13-24 and 03-123.

IP CTS is a form of relay service designed to allow people with hearing loss to speak directly to another party on a telephone call and to simultaneously listen to the other party and read captions of what that party is saying over an IP-enabled device.   

To ensure that IP CTS is provided efficiently to persons who need to use this service, this new Order establishes the following requirements on a temporary basis (for 180 days after the date of the publication of the Order in the Federal Register):

  1. IP CTS providers may not offer financial and other rewards to consumers, charitable organizations, and audiologists and other professionals for the referral and registration of new IP CTS customers. 
  2. New IP CTS users must self-certify to the provider that (1) they have a hearing loss requiring use of the service to effectively communicate over the phone, (2) they understand that the captioning service is provided by a live communications assistant (CA), and (3) they understand that the cost of IP CTS calls is paid by the federal TRS Fund.  If the user spends $75 or more for their IP CTS phone, he or she needs to only provide this self-certification.  But if the user obtains IP CTS equipment for free or for less than $75, she or he must also provide certification from a third party professional that the user needs IP CTS to communicate effectively over the phone.
  3. IP CTS phones must have as a default setting with the captions are turned off, so that consumers need to turn on the captions for each call.

The NPRM seeks comment on:

  1. Whether to adopt the above interim rules as permanent rules;
  2. The likely reasons for the unusually rapid growth in the use of IP CTS;
  3. Whether to prohibit all provider programs that give away or loan equipment to potential or existing IP CTS users for free or at a cost below some specified level;
  4. Whether to require each IP CTS provider, as a condition of continuing to offer service to existing IP CTS users who have not yet registered for service, (a) to register each of their users and (b) as part of the registration process, to obtain from each user certification that the user has a hearing loss that requires IP CTS to communicate in a manner that is functionally equivalent to communication by conventional voice telephone users; 
  5. Whether to establish a specific (quantitative) hearing loss threshold for eligibility to use IP CTS;
  6. Whether to amend the speed of answer requirement for IP CTS; 
  7. Whether to adopt any requirements for IP CTS equipment to have labels informing consumers that IP CTS may be used only by people with hearing loss; and
  8. Whether to require applicants for IP CTS certification to describe how they ensure that they do not bill the TRS Fund for service to ineligible users

To learn more about the Order and NPRM see our Fact Sheet on IP CTS Order .

What do you think?

We need your input! HLAA will post a survey to get feedback on the Order and NPRM. In the meantime, if you have thoughts or concerns, let us know. The FCC also welcomes individual comments. If you need help filing your own comments directly with the FCC, contact advocacy@hearingloss.org .