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July 14, 2004

American firm picks up NZ deaf-relay deal

From: New Zealand Herald, New Zealand - Jul 14, 2004


US telco giant Sprint has won the tender for New Zealand's telecommunications relay service for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.

Under the scheme anyone wishing to call someone who is hearing impaired will contact an operator who will type their words into the system.

The deaf recipient will be able to read what is being said on a special text telephone and can either reply by speaking or by typing back their answer which will be relayed back by the operator.

The system, which is expected to cost around $2 million for the first financial year, will offer free local and national calls at least until call volumes increase, said a Ministry of Economic Development spokesman.

"We may have to revisit the issue of free national calls if volumes increase dramatically."

Sprint will build a call centre to handle the service in Pukekohe and the service will go live in November.

Today deaf callers only have Telecom's text phone service, which doesn't have the same level of functionality, according to the spokesman.

Sprint has been offering relay services in the US for 14 years and this is the first time it has been chosen to offer the service outside North America.

A second internet-based relay service will also be offered by Sprint later in the year.

Users will not have to buy their text-capable phones - the government will subsidise the rental of such units and interested parties are able to sign up for one of the units today.

The government announced it would introduce such a service in December last year and consulted with both industry and lobby groups. The decision followed the recommendations of the government's inquiry into telecommunications held in 2001.

© Copyright 2004, New Zealand Herald