HLAA Executive Director Barbara Kelley and Director of Public Policy Lise Hamlin attended the final Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Open Commission Meeting of 2016 on December 15. Several HLAA chapter members were in attendance as well, including Veronica Davila Steele, who heads up the new Prince George’s County (Maryland) Chapter; Russell Misheloff, leader of the Washington, DC Chapter; and Barry Kasinitz from the Montgomery County (Maryland) Chapter.
The room was packed full of consumers with hearing loss and representatives from Gallaudet University, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI), Communication Service for the Deaf, the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, and the Trace Center at the University of Maryland. We were all there to witness the Commission’s actions on the Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the transition from text telephony (TTY) to real-time text (RTT) technology. The Commission did not disappoint; they unanimously adopted the item, which will serve as a path forward for industry to make RTT with cell phones a reality.
RTT is text that is transmitted instantly with recipients being able to see it on a phone as it is typed, enabling dialogue similar to voice conversations. It also provides the ability to have text flow while the user speaks. This gives immediate telecom accessibility benefits to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability. It also offers benefits to mainstream telecommunications in situations where people are temporarily unable to hear well (such as noisy environments) or use their voice, or cannot engage in an audio conversation due to safety or privacy reasons. These benefits enable communication exchanges that are more fluid and conversational than turn-based texting.
In the Report and Order, the FCC:
- Permits wireless service providers and handset manufacturers to support RTT in lieu of TTY technology
- Ensures RTT users will be able to call 911 for emergency services and 711 for relay services
- Defines RTT to be interoperable across networks and devices and backward compatible with TTYs
- Establishes a phased rollout of RTT for wireless networks from December 31, 2017 to June 2021.
In the accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM), the FCC seeks comment on:
- A timeline to sunset its requirement for RTT to be backward compatible with TTY
- Integration of RTT into telecommunications relay service operations
- Real-time text features that may be needed for people with cognitive disabilities and people who are deaf-blind.
The FCC will announce the public comment due dates for the FNPRM when they become available.
RTT is optional in lieu of TTY, but we are expecting the carriers and manufacturers to comply according to following timeline:
- December 31, 2017: “Big Four” carriers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile) make RTT available in either downloadable app or in at least one phone model
- December 31, 2018: Phone manufacturers put RTT in all new phones
- December 31, 2019: Big Four carriers make RTT available in all new phones models
- June 30, 2020: Smaller carriers make RTT available in either downloadable app or at least one phone model
- June 30, 2021: Smaller carriers make RTT available in all new phones.
It should be noted that this item would not have moved ahead without strong support from consumer groups and endless hours devoted to it by Gallaudet’s Dr. Christian Vogler, the Trace Center’s Greg Vanderheiden, and TDI’s counsel, Drew Simshaw. We also recognize that there were many others who worked behind the scenes for more than a decade to see RTT move from a concept to a reality. The other half of the equation was the willingness of AT&T and others in the telecommunications industry to chart a path forward toward new accessible technologies and away from antiquated TTY technology.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in remarks aimed at the telecommunication industry, “Continue to work with consumer groups to ensure that the needs of the communities they represent are met by implementing features and capabilities that support successful deployment and broad adoption of real-time text. This is your chance to show us that you, that the market, can successfully address these issues without a mandate from us to do so.”
Thanks are also owed to the FCC Commissioners who unanimously voted to adopt this Report an Order and FNPRM and to the Commission’s staff who worked endless hours writing and rewriting this item: Karen Peltz Strauss, Suzy Rosen Singleton, Bob Aldrich, Eliot Greenwald, Michael Scott, Henning Schulzrinne, Peter Trachtenberg, and David Furth.
You can find more information on the FCC website.
Chairman Tom Wheeler to Leave FCC
Also on December 15, Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his intention to leave the FCC on January 20, 2017. Chairman Wheeler has been an unflinching champion of disability access since he took the helm at the FCC more than three years ago. The website Law 360 reports, “While his controversial positions often found him at odds with other policymakers and industry groups, experts agreed that his time at the helm will be remembered for its effectiveness.”
We salute Chairman Wheeler and his achievements, and wish him well in his future endeavors.