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May 11, 2006

FCC - Interoperability press release

From: CSD - May 11, 2006

Release Date: May 3, 2006
Contact: Rick Norris
CSD Communications Office

CSD Responds to Rulings Announced by the Federal Communications Commission

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — CSD, the nation’s premier telecommunications relay and human service organization for deaf and hard of hearing citizens, announced its full support of the order released on May 3 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding interoperability. Now all Video Relay Service (VRS) consumers will be able to place a VRS call through a provider of their choice, and all VRS providers must be capable of receiving calls from and make calls to any consumer.

The new order also does not allow providers to degrade service quality when achieving interoperability and requires that new VRS providers make their technologies compatible with existing technologies. All of these principles have been promoted and supported by CSD since it first launched the service in 2000. CSD was the first to make VRS commercially available on a nationwide basis and purposefully designed its platform with open architecture to achieve interoperability. As the VRS industry grew, some providers began to issue service agreements that would block consumers from making certain types of calls and intentionally limited access within their own networks. CSD joined other consumer advocate groups to denounce this practice and lobbied to make changes within the industry. CSD wholeheartedly commends the FCC for recognizing the importance of full, open accessibility and for mandating interoperability for ALL consumers.

The FCC's order was also accompanied by a notice of proposed rulemaking on uniform numbering as part of the North American Numbering Plan. This will allow every deaf or hard of hearing consumer to be contacted through VRS – or any other Internet-based service – with a 10-digit number. Specifically, the FCC is asking whether there should be a central database or directory of proxy numbers to facilitate VRS calls from hearing people to deaf VRS users. This would be consistent with the functional equivalence mandate, the public interest and the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We applaud the FCC for addressing what we consider to be a civil rights issue as it pertains to telecommunication services,” said Benjamin J. Soukup, chief executive officer of CSD. "This order allows deaf and hard of hearing callers the same opportunities as hearing callers to reach their friends, families and loved ones. In much the same way that my neighbors can pick up their phone to get dial tone and then call anyone they choose at anytime, regardless of what provider or telephone they use, now I am afforded the same opportunity with VRS. In addition, this order has the potential to fundamentally transform the framework within which VRS services operate, increasing the quality of competition in the market place and, most importantly, benefiting consumers and communities all over this country."

VRS is a form of the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) that enables deaf and hard of hearing persons who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with the general public through a third-party relay service. A combination of Internet access and video equipment links the VRS user with a relay operator – called a “video interpreter” (VI) – so that the VRS user and the VI can see and communicate with each other in ASL. The VI translates the signed language into spoken language for the hearing party on a regular voice line telephone and vice versa back to the ASL caller. Because of its visual applications, as well as its convenience and speed, VRS has become an enormously popular form of TRS for deaf ASL users all over the nation.

In a separate proceeding, the FCC also approved a notice of proposed rulemaking on steps it can take to reduce TRS misuse by callers who pretend to be deaf or hard of hearing. The Commission wants comments on whether it should adopt new rules that will allow TRS providers greater discretion to disallow potentially fraudulent or abusive calls. CSD, along with its TRS partner, Sprint, are among the very few TRS providers in the country that have proactively tried to address this issue with the FCC and members of Congress in order to protect consumers, the business sector and the integrity of the TRS system.

Finally, CSD joins other VRS providers and consumer advocate groups in asking the FCC to reject any decrease in the VRS reimbursement rate currently being proposed by the National Exchange Carriers Association (NECA). There is a shared concern that the proposed VRS reimbursement rate is inadequate to make VRS service available for the entire deaf community. Providers and other interested groups argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires functionally equivalent communication services for all Americans, and VRS is currently the most functionally equivalent service available that lets deaf consumers use American Sign Language (ASL), their own native language in a visual format, through the Internet and telecommunication network.

"In order to effectively provide VRS on a national scale while educating and reaching out to the millions of deaf and hard of hearing citizens throughout the U.S., additional efforts must be made by those of us in the VRS industry, as well as those who have a vested interest in this service," Soukup said. "Additional decreases in the current VRS reimbursement rate and discontinuing certain costs that were allowable since the inception of relay services will make these efforts extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is absolutely necessary that we revisit the methodology used to consistently and fairly determine what costs are appropriate and necessary and how the rate will be established from one year to the next.”

NECA is charged by the FCC with gathering costs and other data from VRS providers and recommending a reimbursement rate to the FCC, which allows providers to offer VRS to deaf and hard of hearing users in order to comply with federal requirements. Rather than increasing the rate to reflect the forecasted increase in costs coinciding with new federal requirements, NECA has recommended a considerable rate reduction aimed at eliminating costs such as outreach, which have been accepted in previous years.

For more information on CSDVRS, visit or for more information about Sprint VRS, visit

About CSD – CSD (also known as Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc.) was established in 1975, primarily to provide sign language interpreting services to deaf and hard of hearing adults in South Dakota. Today, CSD employs approximately 3,000 individuals in offices across the nation, providing a broad continuum of social and human service programs, as well as telecommunications relay services. CSD is a private, nonprofit agency dedicated to providing quality services; ensuring public accessibility; and increasing awareness of issues affecting deaf, hard of hearing and individuals with speech disabilities. For more information, please visit

* CSD ~ An Official Sponsor of the 2007 Winter Deaflympics