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Second Improved Relay Services Order -
TRS and Speech-to-Speech

To: Consumer Contact List
Karen Peltz Strauss, RERC-TA
Re: Comment dates set for Second Improved Relay Services Order

Date: August 15, 2003

Notice, CC Docket No. 98-67, FCC 03-112, FR Doc 03-21615

On June 17, 2003, the FCC released a further notice of proposed rulemaking proposing to improve relay services in various ways. The document below provides a summary of the various proposals made. The notice has now been published in the Federal Register and the comment dates are now set as follows:

Comments are due September 24, 2003.Reply comments are due October 9, 2003.


TO: Judy Harkins
Gregg Vanderheiden
RERC on Telecommunications Access
Karen Peltz Strauss
KPS Consulting
Re: In the Matter of Telecommunications Relay Service and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, Second Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, CC Dkt No. 98-67, CG Dkt No. 03-123 (adopted May 15, 2003; released June 17, 2003)

Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register (FR) and reply comments are due 45 days after that. The FR publication date is not yet known.

DATE: June 23, 2003

On June 17, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finalized a new proceeding on telecommunications relay services (TRS). The document is divided into the following three parts:

1. Second Report and Order. addresses matters raised in the FCC's Improved TRS Order and FNPRM released in March of 2000. In that Order, the Commission added requirements for speech-to-speech and interstate Spanish relay services, defined video relay services as a covered form of TRS, and proposed coverage of numerous additional types of TRS services and features;

2. Order on Reconsideration. addresses various petitions for reconsideration or clarification of the March 2000 Improved Services Order; and

3. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). contains various proposals for relay services improvement. This is one of what promises to be an ongoing string of FCC relay proceedings designed to achieve TRS services that are functionally equivalent to conventional voice telephone services.

A new docket number has now been added to all relay proceedings: CG Dkt No. 03-123. Comments in this proceeding should be filed under this number, although you may include the other docket number (CC Dkt No. 98-67) on the document as well . at least for the time being. Eventually, 03-123 will likely supercede both 98-67 and 90-571, the original docket number for relay services.

Note that many abbreviations are used throughout this summary. A brief glossary of these can be found at the end of this document.

I. Report and Order

  1. Use of SS7 Technology by TRS Providers. The FCC concludes SS7 technology is not restricted to use by common carriers. Rather, TRS providers are permitted to have access to SS7 technology or similar technologies to facilitate the provision of relay services. This will enable the following benefits:

    Permit the transmission of information necessary for Caller ID;

    Enable relay calls to be seamlessly transferred to emergency call centers (PSAPs);

    Allow for the transmission of information needed for call blocking;

    May eliminate or reduce the need for TRS providers to manually collect some confidential customer information that is needed to meet certain TRS minimum standards.

The FCC makes clear that is not requiring SS7, but rather giving relay providers the discretion to use any technology that enables them to provide the same functionalities. The new Order does, however, require providers to offer certain Caller ID services where they have available to them the technology needed to transmit calling party identifying information to the public network. Specifically, such providers are required to pass through EITHER (1) the TRS facility's number, OR (2) a standard TRS number such as 711, OR (3) the originating caller's number. The Order explains that SS7 and other similar technologies do not currently have the ability to pass through more than one number at a time. The FCC gives the relay provider the discretion to choose which of these identifying numbers is passed through to the called party.

  1. New Types of TRS Calls. Within 6 months of the publication of this Order, the following new kinds relay calls are mandated on an intrastate and interstate basis:
  • Two line VCO. allows a person with a TTY or VCO screen to talk directly to another party on one line, and read what the other party says over the second line (typed by the CA). Conversations can flow more smoothly and allow for interruptions.

  • Two line HCO " "allows a person to use one line for transmitting text to the other party (read by the CA) and the second line to hear responses.

  • HCO to TTY. allows calls between an HCO user and a TTY user

  • HCO to HCO. allows calls between two HCO users

  • VCO to TTY. allows calls between a VCO user and a TTY user

  • VCO to VCO. allows calls between two VCO users

The new requirements effectively expand the definition of TRS. Although the ADA defines TRS to include telephone transmission services that enable an individual with a hearing or speech disability to communicate with hearing individuals, these new mandates now require the provision of relay services between and among individuals that have disabilities (i.e., no hearing person to the conversation is required) so long as they use the assistance of a CA. Note, however, that because the FCC did not seek comment on the provision of HCO to VCO calls, that type of TRS service is not required in this Order.

Waivers: The FCC is waiving the above requirements for IP Relay and VRS providers until January 1, 2008. During this period, IP Relay and VRS providers must file annual reports with the FCC that detail technological changes, progress made, and the steps taken to resolve the technological problems that prevent these calls. The first of these reports is due 12 months after publication of the Order in the FR.

  1. Emergency Calls. In the 2000 Improved Services Order, the FCC concluded. in its discussion section. that emergency calls coming into TRS centers should automatically be routed to the most "appropriate" PSAP. However, the actual rule that was issued specified the routing of such calls to the "nearest" PSAP. In this Order, the FCC clarifies that TRS providers must automatically and immediately route emergency callers making wireline calls to the "appropriate" PSAP. This is because not all PSAP service providers use geographic proximity as the only factor that determines where 911 and other emergency calls should be routed. TRS providers are given 12 months after publication in the FR to comply with this mandate, because the revised rule may require some system changes. Wireless calls are addressed in the NPRM
  2. Speech-to-Speech TRS Access. Although comments from STS consumers expressed a preference for a dedicated STS-specific nationwide access dialing number, the FCC rejects that request. The Commission raises concerns that multiple numbers for different types of TRS services might be confusing, and "contradict the objective of requiring universal, nationwide 711 access to TRS." The FCC also rejects requests for accessing STS through an interactive dialing menu that would create STS as the first option on the menu. It concludes that 711 access provides an adequate means for customers to reach an STS CA.
  3. Long Distance Carrier of Choice - The Order reminds interexchange carriers of their obligation to take whatever steps are needed to ensure that TRS consumers can make long distance wireline calls through their preferred long distance carriers.
  4. New TRS Features and Services. Within 6 months of the publication of this Order, the following features and services are mandated on an intrastate and interstate basis:
  • Answering machine message retrieval. allows a TTY user to retrieve voice messages left on a voice mailbox or voice answering machine via TRS.
  • Call release. allows a CA to set up calls that will ultimate require only TTY to TTY transmissions. For example, this can occur when a TTY user calls a hospital or hotel switchboard that uses voice, but wants to talk to a person located in a room with a TTY. Once the switchboard connects the two TTY callers, the CA can drop off from the call, affording privacy to the callers.
  • Speed dialing. allows storage of speed dialing codes for specific telephone numbers in a TRS user's consumer profile, enabling callers to give short hand references for frequently called numbers1.
  • Three-way calling. allows more than two parties on the same telephone line with the CA. Cost recovery for these calls will be based on the time that the CA spends facilitating communication, not including call set up time (and not based on each separate conference leg of the call).

Waivers: The FCC is waiving its mandates for call release, speed dialing and three-way calling for IP Relay and VRS providers until January 1, 2008. During this period, IP Relay and VRS providers must file annual reports with the FCC that detail technological changes, progress made, and the steps taken to resolve the technological problems that prevent these calls. The first of these reports is due 12 months after publication of the Order in the FR.[1]

  1. TRS Outreach. Although the FCC requested comment on implementing a national outreach campaign in its Improved Services Order, it now concludes that it does not have a sufficient record to resolve this issue. Additional information is requested in the NPRM, and will be sought from the Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC).

II. Order on Reconsideration

This section of the FCC's release responds to a number of outstanding requests for reconsideration and clarification as follows:

  1. Minimum typing speeds. The Commission rejects requests it had received to reduce the minimum typing speed of 60 words per minute (wpm). The Commission explains that the current minimum is "reasonable and necessary to reduce the length of TRS calls, and therefore to provide functionally equivalent service. The FCC acknowledges that newly hired CAs may not be capable of achieving this speed without some training, but insists that CAs test at 60 wpm when they begin handling TRS calls.
  2. Hot key for alerting TRS caller to recorded messages. The Commission clarifies that "one stroke" technologies other than a hot key may be used to notify a consumer's TTY that a recording or interactive menu has been reached.
  3. Remaining with an STS CA for 15 minutes. The Commission states that this requirement is a reasonable mandatory minimum standard and rejects a request to extend its effective date.
  4. Definition of qualified interpreter. The current definition, adopted from the U.S. Department of Justice's ADA regulations, requires VRS interpreters to "interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary." After this definition was adopted, a TRS provider raised concerns that this rule would force TRS providers to have VRS interpreters for every specialized professional vocabulary. In this proceeding, the FCC upholds the original definition, to prevent VRS users from encountering interpreters without sufficient skills. More specifically, citing a Gallaudet document entitled "Becoming a Sign Language Interpreter," the Commission explains that interpreters are expected to be able to meet the challenges of varied interpreter situations, and are, therefore, "conversant in the vocabularies of various professions and fields."
  5. Speed of answer. In March, 2000, the FCC revised its speed of answer rules to require inclusion of calls that are dropped and abandoned in calculations of speed of answer time. The FCC now rejects requests for an extension of time for this mandate. It also rejects a request for waiver of the speed of answer requirement for STS. (Note: A waiver of the speed of answer mandate is already in effect for VRS until the end of 2003.)
  6. Reorganization of rules. The FCC has moved some of its rules and consolidated others to better present its rules on call blocking restrictions (the percentage of calls that must be answered within a specified amount of time) and adequate network capacity.

III. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

As part of its ongoing efforts to ensure that TRS meets the functionally equivalent standard, the FCC has issued an NPRM seeking comment in the following areas:

  1. National Security/Emergency Preparedness. The Commission's Telecommunications Service Priority Program (TSP) contains a framework for restoring and providing priority telecommunications services to the general public in the event of an emergency. Services that have priority . called "National Security and Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) recovery priorities. are those needed to respond to local, national or international events that could cause "serious harm to life or property." The FCC proposes to assign the same NS/EP priority to TRS that is applied to other telecommunications services used for the public in an emergency. The Commission requests comment on whether its rules should include a mandate to continue TRS operations in an emergency to the same extent that other local exchange telephone companies are required to continue operations. This would allow both types of facilities to simultaneously be reinstated when an emergency occurs. The FCC also seeks comment on whether TRS providers and state programs must provide an operational plan. in addition to what is already required in its rules . "to ensure the survivability and continued operations of TRS operations" in an emergency.
  2. Security of IP Relay Calls. Many e-commerce merchants provide message encryption to secure private information transmitted via the Internet. The FCC seeks comment on whether IP Relay calls should be provided with similar encryption technology as is used in commercial transactions, or whether alternative security measures can guarantee the security of IP Relay communications. The FCC also asks whether encryption or other measures will require registration, sign-ins, or passwords by IP relay users.
  3. Emergency Calls over Wireless Networks. The FCC notes that there are technological challenges in trying to route emergency TRS calls made over wireless systems to appropriate PSAPs. Specifically, because there is no correlation between the telephone number and location of a wireless caller, the TRS center's equipment cannot query a database of exchanges to find the PSAP associated with that caller's number. Thus, TRS providers must have an alternative way to identify the location of a wireless caller and the designated PSAP. Under the FCC's enhanced 911 (E911) rules, some wireless carriers may be able to obtain and forward the location information of a TRS call. If a TRS facility receives this information, it then needs software to access a database that can route the call to the appropriate PSAP. TRS calls routed through wireless carriers that have not achieved E911 capability would need to be handled differently. In its NPRM, the FCC asks for information about how TRS facilities currently route emergency wireless calls to appropriate PSAPs, and whether there is any difference if the relay call is made via 711 or a direct dialing access number. It also seeks comment on whether wireless carriers should be required to transmit E911 information to TRS centers, and if E911 capability does not exist, whether the TRS facility should be exempt from having to route wireless emergency calls to the appropriate PSAP. Finally, it asks whether some other system could be used to provide access to emergency services for wireless calls.
  4. Non-English Language TRS. In prior proceedings, the FCC has deemed TRS calls made between two different languages. e.g., Spanish and English. to be translation services that go beyond the scope of TRS. But in the Improved Services Order of March 2000, the FCC did conclude that translation between American Sign Language and English via TRS was needed to achieve functional equivalency. After that order was released, the Texas Public Utilities Commission petitioned the Commission to allow other non-shared language relay services to be reimbursable through the Interstate Relay Fund. Of particular concern are deaf children who are educated in ASL and English, but who grow up in Spanish speaking families. The FCC acknowledges that multi-lingual translation TRS services provided to families like these may meet unique TRS user needs. The Commission now seeks comment on the extent to which such services are needed to achieve functional equivalency, the costs for these services, what translation services would entail for TRS providers, and whether such services should be reimbursable from the Interstate Relay Fund. The Commission also asks for a time line for implementation of these services, and how they would specifically be implemented for VRS, STS and other types of TRS.
  5. Call Set Up. The time needed to set up STS, VRS and other non-traditional TRS calls, such as one and two line VCO and HCO, varies considerably, and is not currently regulated by the FCC. The Commission seeks comment on how call set up can best be handled, including information on ways that new technologies can reduce call set up time. The FCC also asks whether specific call set up times for various forms of TRS should be established and if so, how those should be measured.
  6. CART. Computer access real-time translation (also known as computer-aided real-time transcription or CART) enables a stenographer to type verbatim speech at rates that far exceed typing. The FCC asks for general information about how CART can be used by TRS providers, including its technical requirements, training issues, applications, benefits, costs, the supply of CART providers, and needed TRS waivers. The Commission is interested in knowing whether TRS providers should offer CART or CART-type services to improve TRS speed.
  7. Interrupt Functionality. Some TRS providers already offer their TRS users the capability of interrupting incoming text messages, to enable a more natural telephone conversation. The FCC asks for information about how interrupt functionality is being provided, consumer use of this feature, and whether any non-proprietary TTY protocols can support it.
  8. LEC Offerings. The Commission asks about the application of the following telephone features to TRS. It tentatively concludes that these should be provided if they are offered by the TRS user's subscribed local carrier and if the TRS facility can send Caller ID to the local telephone carrier:
    Anonymous call rejection. automatically rejects calls to the user's number when the calling party has blocked certain Caller ID information.

    Call screening. selective call blocking that allows the user to create a list of telephone numbers that the user does not want to accept

    Preferred call-forwarding. allows a user to maintain a list of telephone numbers from which calls will be forwarded to another number

  1. Talking Return Call (also called automatic call-back). This allows a person to automatically return the last incoming telephone call whether or not the call was answered. The Commission asks for information on the feasibility of providing this service and whether it should be mandatory.
  2. Speech Recognition Technology. The FCC asks about the current status of speech recognition technology and the extent to which TRS providers have already begun using this technology. Parties are asked to address non-proprietary technologies and whether CA training to use these is necessary.
  3. Transmission Speed. The FCC requests comment on whether it is technologically feasible to improve the transmission speed for the TTY leg of TRS calls, and how advanced technology to achieve this would be compatible with legacy TTYs.
  4. TTY Protocols. Although, in the FNPRM, the FCC had asked for information on the use of V.18, V.21 and other TTY protocols, it states that it did not receive enough comment on this issue. The Commission now seeks comment on the extent to which innovative, non-proprietary TTY protocols are being used, as well as the benefits and disadvantages that each might have for the provision of TRS.
  5. Outreach. The Commission acknowledges that its current standards already require that carriers take steps to inform the public about TRS. It then asks a series of questions about making that outreach more effective, including the kinds of outreach that should be required, the existence of model state programs, the role of federal funding for this purpose, the best materials to be used to reach target audiences, the current rate of hang-ups on TRS users, the best distribution methods, and whether additional outreach should be funded by the states for intrastate TRS providers and the TRS Interstate Fund for interstate providers. Finally, the Commission asks, if it were to require a coordinated outreach campaign, how that campaign should be funded. For example, it asks whether third parties could be compensated for the costs of such a program through the TRS Interstate Fund.
  6. TRS Provider Eligibility to Receive TRS Interstate Fund Payments. Currently, there is no method for a TRS provider that provides only interstate TRS to receive reimbursement for those services if it is not either certified by a state relay program as an approved intrastate relay provider or is a common carrier. The FCC seeks comment on whether it should establish a federal certification process to enable such reimbursement to take place. It then proceeds to propose various conditions for such a certification process: compliance with the FCC's mandatory minimum standards, maintenance of a log of complaints and their disposition, and submission of a report detailing compliance with the FCC's standards and resolution of TRS complaints. The Commission also asks whether it should require all interstate TRS providers seeing reimbursement from the Interstate Relay Fund to apply for federal certification from the Commission regardless of their affiliation with a state certified program. In addition, the FCC asks whether it should institute a certification process specifically for IP Relay, VRS, and any other technology that does not easily fit within the traditional intra-interstate jurisdictional separation of costs. Finally, it asks whether federal certification rules should be different for IP Relay and VRS since some providers of these services are not common carriers.

Brief Glossary:

CA. communications assistant (relay operator)

FCC. Federal Communications Commission

FR. Federal Register

HCO. hearing carry over. an individual (often speech disabled) uses the CA to type his or her messages and can hear responses in return.

PSAP. public safety answering point (emergency call center)

STS. speech-to-speech relay services

TRS. telecommunications relay services

VCO. voice carry over. an individual (often hard of hearing or late-deafened) can speak for him or herself, and uses the CA to type back messages in return.

VRS. video relay services

This summary was prepared as part of the RERC on Telecommunications Access, a joint project of Gallaudet University and the Trace Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison under funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the US Dept of Education Grant H133E990006. The opinions offered herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the RERC on Telecommunications Access, the Universities or funding agencies

[1] The FCC will not mandate automatic call forwarding as proposed in its Improved Services Order. This technology allows calls placed by a TRS user to a party to be automatically forwarded to the other party's (designated) forwarded telephone number. The FCC concludes that this is a feature that the called party subscribes to through the telephone company. All calls automatically made to the designated number get forwarded, whether or not they are made through TRS.

This page last updated:September 12, 2003

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