This News Release: Text | Word97
Statements: Ness | Tristani

fcclogo NEWS

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
TTY: 202/418-2555

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).

February 17, 2000
Audrey Spivack (202) 418-0500
TTY (202) 418-2555



(Docket CC 98-67)

Washington, D.C. -- The FCC today amended its rules governing the delivery of Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) to expand the kind of relay services available to consumers with hearing and speech disabilities and to improve the quality of relay services.

TRS is a telephone transmission service, originally required in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and implemented nationwide in 1993. It enables persons with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate by telephone with persons who may or may not have such disabilities. As a result, many Americans who had limited or no practical access to telephone services can use the telephone via relay service. TRS now utilizes a variety of services to facilitate telephone communication by persons with hearing or speech disabilities. Relay services between TTY and voice users utilize a relay operator, called a Communications Assistant, to read what the TTY user types to a voice telephone user, and to type responses back to the TTY user throughout the duration of a telephone call.

In a Report and Order issued today the FCC adopted additional rules to increase the availability and usefulness of the telecommunications system for Americans with hearing and speech disabilities. Specifically, the FCC:

    -required that speech to speech relay service be provided. Speech to speech relay service utilizes individuals trained in understanding certain speech patterns to relay conversations for people with speech disabilities -required that Spanish language relay service be provided for interstate calls

    -encouraged the provision of video relay interpreting service by making it eligible for reimbursement from the TRS fund. Video relay interpreting utilizes Communications Assistants skilled in sign language to relay conversations for users of American Sign Language.

The Commission also revised its minimum standards in accordance with the statutory mandate that TRS must be “functionally equivalent” to voice telecommunications service to the extent possible. Among other things, these rules will improve the speed at which calls are answered and conversations relayed.

In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC asked for comment on how to further improve TRS. Specifically, the Notice asked what changes are necessary to increase public awareness of TRS among all callers, not just those with disabilities, including how a national awareness education campaign can be established; and whether other technologies, services, and features should be made available to TRS users.

Telecommunications relay service is critical given the importance that telecommunication plays in a person’s ability to participate in this information age. It provides telephone access to a significant number of Americans who without it may not be able to make or receive calls from others. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10.9 million Americans have a functional limitation in hearing what is said in a normal conversation and 2.5 million have a functional limitation in having one's speech understood.

TRS provides an important service to people with hearing and speech disabilities in the area of job employment by enabling a person with a hearing or speech disability to place a phone call to a prospective employer, to answer an advertisement for a job, to access training, and to advance one's career through formal and informal networks. Improving the quality of TRS will enhance employment opportunities for people with hearing and speech disabilities and may contribute to a decrease in their unemployment rate. According to recent statistics on employment of persons with disabilities while 82.1 percent of the general working age population (ages 21-64) is employed, only 52.3 percent of all people with disabilities are employed. This figure includes persons who have difficulty performing functional activities such as hearing and having one's speech understood. Among those with severe disabilities, only 26.1 percent are employed.


Action by the Commission February 17, 2000, by Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 00-56). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell, and Tristani, with Commissioners Ness and Tristani issuing separate statements.

Common Carrier Bureau contacts: Debra Sabourin 202-418-0976, TTY 202-418-0484, or Ellen Blackler 202-418-0491 Office of Disability Rights Office contacts: Pam Gregory 202-418-2498, TTY 202-418-1169 or Meryl Icove 202-418-2372, TTY 202-418-7172,

Specifically, FCC action:
  • finds that the statutory definition of telecommunications relay services is not limited to relay services using a TTY, and includes speech-to-speech relay services (STS), video relay interpreting services (VRI) and non-English language relay services;

  • requires that common carriers provide STS and interstate Spanish relay services by March 1, 2001;

  • does not require VRI, but encourages it by permitting the recovery of the costs of both intrastate and interstate VRI calls from the interstate TRS fund;

  • requires that all relay services, whether mandatory or voluntary, funded by the interstate TRS Fund must comply with minimum service quality standards; and modifies the rules to accommodate STS and VRI service;

  • modifies the speed of answer requirement so that consumers will reach a communications assistant (CA) more quickly;

  • imposes a minimum typing speed of 60 wpm in order to speed the transmission of calls using TTYs;

  • amends the rules to minimize disruption during relay calls by establishing a minimum time that a CA must stay with a call;

  • amends the rule to permit an STS CA, at the request of the STS user, to retain information beyond the duration in order to facilitate the completion of consecutive calls;

  • permits the STS CA to facilitate a call for a user with a speech disability;

  • requires that relay providers offer STS users the option to maintain at the relay center a list of frequently called names and telephone numbers ;

  • establishes that information gathered by relay providers on individual caller preferences and used to complete TRS calls is not customer proprietary network information (CPNI) under section 222 of the Act, must be transferred during a change in TRS provider and cannot be used for any purpose other than the handling of TRS calls;

  • requires TRS providers to automatically and immediately transfer emergency calls to the appropriate 911 Operator and relay the callers number to the operator orally;

  • clarifies that the existing rule requires outreach to all callers and for all forms of TRS;

  • concludes that Section 225 by its terms does not prohibit us from requiring relay services to accommodate enhanced or information services;

  • requires relay service to accommodate interactive menus and other recorded messages by requiring CAs to alert the user to the presence of a recorded message through a hot key on the CA’s terminal, and to record recorded messages;

  • requires relay service to include the ability to make pay per call calls;

  • requires states to notify the FCC about substantive changes in their TRS programs within 60 days of when they occur;

  • requires states to submit to the FCC a contact person or office for filing consumer complaints to be posted on the FCC’s website;

  • adopts the Commission’s informal complaint process for TRS complaints;

  • requires state programs and interstate TRS providers to maintain a log of consumer complaints that allege a violation of the minimum standards and annually report to the FCC the number of complaints received.

  • In the Further Notice, the FCC seeks comment on:

  • what changes are necessary to increase public awareness of TRS among all callers, not just those with disabilities, including how a national awareness education campaign can be established;

  • whether there should be a separate, nationwide 800 number for STS relay service, or any additional rules to make TRS functionally equivalent;

  • whether TRS providers should have access to SS7 technology in order to better handle emergency calls, be compatible with Call ID and more efficiently bill for and deliver relay services; and

  • whether other technologies, services, and features should be made available to TRS users.