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FCC Raises Standards Governing Phone Relay Service for People With Speech Disabilities


With the release of this Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC has raised the standards for providers of Speech-to-Speech (STS) Relay Service in order to improve the experience for persons with a speech disability who need the service in order to make telephone calls using their own voice or an assistive voice device. Improvements of "Speech-to-Speech" relay service in the Order will increase user satisfaction while the Further Notice explores changes to improve efficiency of service.

Speech-to-speech uses specially trained operators - Communications Assistants, or "CAs" - to relay the conversation back and forth between the individual with the speech disability and the other party to the call. Communications Assistants are trained to understand a variety of speech disorders, which enables them to repeat what the caller says in a manner that makes the caller's words clear and understandable to the called party.

The order amends certain mandatory minimum standards to improve Speech-to-Speech TRS, including: increasing the time a CA must stay with a call, a muting option and dialing 711 to initiate STS calls. The new requirements will go into effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

In addition to the order, the FCC issued a further notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking comments on:

  • Whether to contract for a national STS outreach coordinator to conduct all STS outreach and to eliminate the current per-minute outreach subsidy to STS providers. Similar action has improved efficiencies for the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Program and will be implemented for the Video Relay Service (VRS) and Internet Protocol (IP) Relay Programs.
  • Whether to adopt consumer eligibility, registration and verification for STS to ensure that only those who qualify use the service.
  • Whether to adopt other recommendations made by consumers to improve STS for its users, including the use of caller profiles that help a communications assistant know the communication preferences of an STS user in advance of a call and the need for a federal advisory committee dedicated to considering STS issues.
  • Whether to amend the rules to specify that certain TRS mandatory minimum standards do not apply to STS, including CA competency in typing and spelling and use of the ASCII and Baudot formats that are used in TTY transmissions.

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