|Posted on February 10, 2014 at 4:40 PM|
On August 26, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules regarding the use of Internet-based captioned telephone service (IP CTS) and software applications (apps) that provide captioned phone calls on smart phones. Included in the rules was the requirement that captioned telephones and apps would be available only if they were purchased for a minimum of $75 each. They also ruled that the phones must be set up so that captions would not appear until the consumer turned the captions on.
HLAA has watched captioned telephone services become increasingly successful since their arrival on the scene in 2001. Over the years, it has proven to be the one service that is truly equivalent to the traditional phones many of us grew up with: pick up the phone, dial and talk directly to friends, family, co-workers, even Joe’s Pizza. The FCC, instead of embracing the success of captioned telephone services, appears to be focusing primarily on the cost of providing captioned telephone services.
In response to the new rules, CaptionCall, one of the companies that provide captioned telephones, filed a Stay Request and a Motion to Vacate in the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the new FCC regulations violated the rights of people with hearing loss as guaranteed by the ADA. Their Stay Request was granted in part by the court on December 6, 2013, so that companies are now permitted to offer IP CTS phones for free with professional certification of hearing loss.
HLAA supports the FCC’s efforts to ensure that no fraud or misuse harm the TRS fund. However, we believe this rule goes too far. The ADA is a civil rights law: no one should have to pay a special fee to have access to their civil rights. Consumers with hearing loss who need captioned telephones should not be prevented, deterred or discouraged from receiving this essential service.
In their brief to the court, CaptionCall notes that the FCC acted when the number of users of IP CTS approached 150,000 in January 2013. With 48 million Americans with hearing loss, it would seem logical that more than 150,000 of those people would benefit from captioned phones. In addition, the FCC apparently did not dispute CaptionCall’s claim that preserving the fund would have required an increase of only three one hundredths of one percent in the contribution factor for contributors to the TRS Fund.
HLAA filed a Friend of the Court Brief (amicus brief) January 14. We support CaptionCall’s petition to the court requesting that the FCC’s Order be vacated on two issues: 1) regarding the requirement of the minimum $75 fee for the phone or software applications; and 2) the requirement for keeping the captions on. We argue that these rules create a barrier to people with hearing loss who could benefit from or have benefited from captioned phones. It’s our understanding the court will rule on the issue sometime this summer. When that happens, we’ll know just how difficult it will be for people to make a simple phone call.