Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) filed comments on February 26, 2013 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in their proceeding on captioned telephones. The FCC is alarmed that usage of IP CTS (Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Services) 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 believes the rise in usage of IP CTS is to be expected, in part because the baby boomers are now aging into hearing loss, many of whom could benefit from CTS but also because more and more people with hearing loss are learning about CTS and how it can help them.
The FCC’s Order is now in effect and requires on a temporary basis (for 180 days):
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.
We agree in part with the FCC, but also disagree on some issues. The key points in our filing:
- Relay services were established under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a civil rights law, consumers are entitled to access without having to jump hurdles to establish our need: we should simply have to self-identify our hearing loss to receive access to relay services.
- Consumers should never have to prove eligibility for IP CTS based on their degree of hearing loss measured in decibels.
- Consumers should only need to self-identify as a person with hearing loss to be deemed eligible for relay services; they should not have to provide certification regarding their hearing loss made under penalty of perjury provided either directly to a service provider or to a third party.
- Rewards programs should end permanently. Audiologists and hearing instrument specialists are logical professionals to educate consumers about how to be able to use the phone and should be encouraged to be a source of information for consumers, and refer consumers who need IP CTS to that service. However, since it is part of their counseling of patients with hearing loss, no referral fees should be awarded.
- IP CTS equipment should not be distributed for free to all; instead only income eligible consumers should have access to free phones, others should have access to phones provided at a minimum cost of $75.
- IP CTS equipment should be made available to consumers with the default position of captions on. Turning captions off should be an easy, one-step process.
If you wish to look at other comments in this proceeding, see http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?z=44zpg&name=13-24