Cost of Broadband Tops Video Relay Service Problems

“Broadband affordability” might be keeping some deaf Americans from accessing VRS services
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The U.S. government has identified several issues that have been detrimental to the video relay service (VRS) program, with “broadband affordability” toping the list of issues that might be keeping some deaf Americans from accessing VRS services.

On Feb. 1, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission posted a Federal Register notice—Structure and Practices of the Video Relay Service Program; Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services forIndividuals With Hearing and Speech Disabilities—that lists “structural issueswith the current program that have not only detracted from itshistorical success in providing communications services to individualswho are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have a speech disability,but may also threaten its future success.”

The issues the FCC have identified and seek to address are: That broadband affordability may be restricting the availability of VRS. That VRS access technology standards may be insufficiently developed frustrating the program’s technology goals, and potentially resulting in inappropriate lock in of VRS users.

That current VRS compensation mechanism is unpredictable and potentially inefficient.

That the structure of the VRS industry might be suboptimal and inconsistent with the goals set out for the program.

That the current VRS compensation mechanism has proven vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.

The FCC provides details on each issue and the commission says that “broadband affordability has been identified as a major barrier to broadband adoption.” However, the FCC adds that it “lacks systematic data,” but it has “anecdotal and other evidence to suggest that this broadband affordability barrier may be particularly acute for the deaf and hard of hearing community, such that some people who would benefit from VRS are unable to afford the required broadband Internet access service.”

The FCC says it has received a comment saying “a disproportionate number of deaf American adults are unemployed; receive Social Security; live in poverty, or have household incomes below $20,000;” and that “broadband penetration among this community is therefore likely to be lower than the national average of approximately 65 percent.”

Under those conditions, the FCC “finds it reasonable to presume that some of those deaf Americans who have low incomes live in areas where broadband is available, yet they do not subscribe due to the expense.” Among that group, “there are likely to be such individuals who would benefit from VRS, but cannot afford the necessary broadband Internet access service,” the FCC says.