Last week, the Federal Communications Commission’s proceeding to consider proposed improvements to the structure and efficiency of the video relay service (“VRS”) program was published in the Federal Register, thus setting the deadline for initial comments by March 2, 2012, and replies  by March 19, 2012.

VRS allows persons with hearing or speech disabilities or who are deaf-blind to use American Sign Language to communicate in near real time through a communications assistant, via video over a broadband Internet connection. The stated goal of the FCC’s proposals is "to ensure that VRS provides functionally equivalent communications services to its users – particularly given advances in commercially-available technology – and remains immune from the waste, fraud, and abuse that has threatened its long-term viability."

The FCC identified two fundamental flaws with the existing VRS program: (1) no real opportunity for VRS providers to compete for other providers' VRS users, and (2) VRS users' lack of access to off-the-shelf VRS access technology. The FCC has proposed numerous options to address these problems including

  • Using the TRS Fund to provide discounted broadband Internet access to the VRS user community;
  • Revising the compensation structure for marketing of VRS services;
  • Creating VRS access technology standards that are conceptually similar to the part 68 standards for traditional CPE;
  • Mandating off the shelf VRS technology;
  • Funding iTRS access technology with TRS fund;
  • Changing the current compensation mechanism to reduce incentives for fraud and abuse; and
  • Establishment of a VRS user database.