NAD Takes Action in Response to New FCC Rules Limiting International VRS Calls

On June 1, 2011, the NAD took the lead, and was joined by other consumer groups, in filing a petition for reconsideration of the recently enacted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibiting compensation for Video Relay Service (VRS) calls that originate with Internet connections from international IP addresses, and clarification of the limited exception for pre-registered U.S. residents.

On April 6th, 2011 the FCC released an order explaining that VRS calls made to the U.S. that originate outside the country will not be compensated by the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund. However, the FCC adopted a limited four-week exception for calls from outside the country made by U.S. residents who have pre-registered with his or her default provider prior to leaving the country. When pre-registering, such individuals must specify the locations to which the individual will be traveling and duration at each designation. Only calls made from those locations at the times specified in the pre-registration will be compensable. The FCC explained that this exception will not apply to calls made by individuals who remain outside the U.S. for more than four-weeks.

Deaf and hard of hearing Americans who rely on VRS have as much a right to communicate with people at home while traveling abroad as those who are hearing. VRS is a lifeline for deaf and hard of hearing people, and this lifeline should not stop at the border. This order violates the deaf and hard of hearing person’s right to functional equivalent telecommunications. Voice/hearing callers are able to make VRS calls from overseas while deaf or hard of hearing people cannot. This disparate treatment is unfair.

The NAD asked the FCC to reconsider this decision, and if reconsideration is not granted, we asked that they clarify that this four-week exception does not preclude those traveling abroad for a longer period, say five weeks, from specifying a four-week period when VRS calls that originate outside the U.S. and terminate inside the U.S. can be reimbursed. It does not make sense to allow an individual who is abroad for four-weeks the ability to make VRS calls and not to allow another who is abroad for four-weeks plus one day the ability to make any VRS calls at all.

This request for reconsideration and clarification is strictly limited to Part III, Section E: International VRS Calls of the April 6, 2011 order. While these rules are written with strong considerations for fraud, the rules related to international calls come at the expense of functional equivalent telecommunications. The Commission should find ways to combat fraud in international VRS calls in ways that do not compromise the right to functional equivalent telecommunications when making international VRS calls.