FCC Adopts Rules Governing Video Relay Services

Hopes to reduce the “waste, fraud and abuse” that have plagued the program
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The U.S. government adopted rules governing video relay services (VRS) in order to reduce the “waste, fraud and abuse” that have plagued the program.

On Dec. 15, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” concerning the “structure and practices of the video relay service program” the FCC says a “structural reform of the commission’s VRS rules is required to ensure that the program is effective, efficient and sustainable.” While adopted, the commission is seeking comment on the rule.

The FCC says the latest rule continues “the process of reexamining the fundamentals of the commission’s VRS rules to ensure the VRS program fulfills the goals” that are mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Specifically, in the latest rule the FCC proposes “a series of options and proposals to improve the structure and efficiency of the program to ensure that it is available to all eligible users and offers functional equivalence—particularly given advances in commercially available technology, and is immune as possible from the waste, fraud and abuse that threaten the long-term viability of the program as it currently operates.”

During the past two years, the FCC has sought to improve the efficiency and performance of the VRS program by reexamining the rates at which VRS providers are compensated under the existing per-minute compensation methodology, as well as “initiating a fresh look at the structure and practices of the VRS program,” the proposed rule says.

In addition, the current structure of the VRS program “has been vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse” that threatens its “long-term sustainability,” the FCC says. Actions taken by the FCC’s inspector general’s office and the Department of Justice have resulted in several criminal convictions, as well as new policies focused on VRS practices and certifications.

In addition, the FCC has revisited the “per-minute compensation rates” to providers for “interstate” telecommunications relay services (TRS). The rates for TRS compensation started at $5.14 per minute in 2000 and peaked at $17.04 per minute in 2002, but they dropped to from $6 to $8 per minute between 2003 and 2006. However, the FCC adopted interim TRS rates on a “tier” system. The actual rate is determined based on volume which generally results in smaller providers receiving “a higher average per-minute rate than larger providers,” the FCC says. Those rates are: $6.23 per minute for Tier I; $6.23 per minute for Tier II; and $5.06 per minute for Tier III. The FCC originally pursued VRS payment formulas, but has since abandoned that plan in favor of continuing with the tier payment plan, the rule says.