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FCC Action Follows Fraud Arrests and Leaves VRS Providers in a Bind

By Tom Willard (c) Deafweekly
January 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC -- The federal government has stopped reimbursing Video Relay Service (VRS) providers for many types of phone calls that VRS companies are still legally required to handle.

The Federal Communications Commission has not paid VRS providers for certain types of calls since July 2009, said the National Association of the Deaf in a news release issued Thursday.

Among the calls deemed ineligible for reimbursement are any calls made to a recorded message.

The FCC "believes these are not calls involving a hearing individual," said the NAD. "This interpretation defies logic, is inconsistent with FCC rules and is erroneous."

The FCC took action in the wake of a wide-ranging financial fraud involving seven VRS companies that to date has resulted in 26 arrests and two guilty pleas.

Defendants in the scheme are accused of making phony calls to long voice recordings to inflate their figures and collect more money from the VRS fund, which is financed by fees added onto most phone bills.

The FCC responded by deciding, without input from the deaf community, that certain types of VRS calls -- including the kind that deaf people make every day -- were probably fake and thus ineligible for reimbursement.

These types of calls include:

-- Calls that connect to automated call response or interactive voice response (IVR) systems
-- Calls that are connected to recorded communication, such as that provided by government agencies
-- Multiple calls from a single videophone/VRS number
-- Multiple calls to a single telephone number
-- Calls to technical support services (i.e., Blackberry and T-Mobile during a service outage)
-- Calls connected to telephone conference call service numbers

But these are typical phone calls that everyone makes, said the NAD, and current FCC rules require them to be handled just like any other call.

At issue is "functional equivalency," the idea that deaf people should be able to make any kind of phone call they want, when they want, just like hearing people.

Several VRS providers and consumer groups have joined the NAD in asking the FCC to clarify the rules for when and how a VRS call can be denied reimbursement.

As of now, VRS providers say they are in the impossible position of being required to process all calls received and being denied compensation for handling many of those calls.

The NAD is asking community members to file a comment with the FCC.

To do so, visit and type 03-123 in the box marked, "Proceeding Number." Enter your name and contact information and tell the FCC how you use VRS and why it is important to you.

Also say: "I support the Petition to Initiate a Notice and Comment Rulemaking Proceeding filed by the National Association of the Deaf."

Source: NAD News Release



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