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Federal Communications Commission
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Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

Report No. CC 98-15 COMMON CARRIER ACTION May 14, 1998

Commission Proposes Ways to Improve Telecommunications Relay Services, Extend Services to More People With Disabilities
(CC Docket No. 98-67)

The Commission today proposed ways to enhance the quality of existing telecommunications relay services (TRS) and expand those services for better use by the 2.5 million Americans with speech disabilities. Today's proposals are intended to promote access to telecommunications and improve the overall effectiveness of both interstate and intrastate TRS programs.

TRS enables people with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate with people who use voice telephones. The service typically involves a three-way call between a person using a text telephone, an operator -- known as a Communications Assistant -- and a person using a voice telephone. The Communications Assistant relays messages between the callers. TRS, which has been in existence for more than a decade, is currently available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and operates at no extra cost to the caller.

Among the proposals included in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted today:

  • The Commission tentatively concluded that the costs of speech-to-speech (STS) services and video relay interpreting (VRI) service should be recoverable from the TRS Fund. STS allows people with speech disabilities to speak on the telephone and to be understood by the person being called through the use of a specially-trained Communications Assistant who relays the conversation. VRI uses videoconferencing equipment to allow callers with hearing disabilities to communicate by sign language or other forms of visual communication to the Communications Assistant who relays the conversation.

  • The Commission tentatively concluded that all common carriers providing voice transmission services must ensure that STS services are available throughout their service areas within two years of adoption of final rules in this proceeding.

  • The Commission tentatively concluded that it should strengthen the current TRS minimum standards, including its speed-of-answer rules.

  • The Commission tentatively concluded that it should amend the TRS enforcement rules to improve the Commission's oversight of certified state TRS programs and its ability to compel compliance with the federal mandatory minimum standards for TRS.

Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, in part, to allow individuals with disabilities to participate fully in American society. To achieve this goal in the telecommunications context, Title IV of the ADA requires the Commission to ensure that telecommunications relay services are available, to the extent possible and in the most efficient manner, to persons with hearing or speech disabilities in the United States. Without this legal obligation, 28 million Americans might be deprived of the fundamental ability to use the telephone. Today's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks to advance the goals of the ADA by extending the benefits of advances in telecommunications to Americans that might otherwise be excluded because of their disability.

Action by the Commission May 14, 1998, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 98-90). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani .


News Media contact: Rochelle Cohen at (202) 418-0253 (voice),(202) 418-2555 (TTY).
Common Carrier Bureau contact: Kris Monteith at (202) 418-1098 (voice), (202) 418-0484 (TTY).