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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Video Relay Service: Program Funding and Reform

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates a number of disability-related telecommunications services, including video relay service (VRS). VRS allows persons with hearing disabilities, using American Sign Language (ASL), to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment, rather than through typed text. VRS has quickly become a very popular service, as it offers several features not available with the text-based telecommunications relay service (TRS).

In June 2010, the FCC began a comprehensive review of the rates, structure, and practices of the VRS program. The goal of the review is to reform the VRS program, which had long been burdened by waste, fraud, and abuse, and by compensation rates that had become inflated above actual cost. Most recently, in October 2012, the FCC asked for input on how it might improve the technology used by users and operators of the VRS program and update VRS rates.

Congressional interest in the VRS Program is two-fold: eliminating fraud and abuse in the program and maintaining the usefulness of the program for users. Controversy has arisen over the latest proposals for change to the program being considered by the FCC. The FCC believes that rate structure changes are needed to reduce fraud and better manage the VRS program, but the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is concerned that funding cuts will result in fewer and lessqualified ASL interpreters. Additionally, the FCC has proposed changing the technologies used to operate and use the system, but the community is concerned that changes in technology will decrease the quality of the system as it is now and also potentially pose challenges to some users.

Date of Report: December 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R42830
Price: $19.95

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