A provider of video relay services (VRS) used by people with hearing and speech disabilities to place telephone calls is paying nearly $1.4 million to settle two federal probes into improper payments made to the provider, and a federal investigator warns other VRS providers to avoid such questionable practices.
The settlement resolves allegations that CSDVRS, LLC received improper payments from the federal fund that supports VRS, an Internet-based form of telecommunications relay service (TRS). Those services enable people with hearing and speech disabilities to have telephone conversations with hearing people worldwide using an interpreter.
The FCC’s TRS Fund compensates TRS providers for reasonable costs of providing service for interstate calls. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau conducted an investigation into whether CSDVRS improperly billed the TRS Fund for VRS calls that were actually generated by the company’s employees.
The FCC urges “all TRS providers to take note and toe the line, as we expect strict compliance in this area,” says Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison.
Other issues in the investigations included whether the company routed calls through uncertified providers and whether a broadband application used by the company failed to fully transmit calls, including calls to emergency responders.
Under the terms of the consent decree, CSDVRS agreed to repay the TRS Fund more than $480,000 in overpayments and interest. In addition, the company will make a $900,000 voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury.
The company also must implement a compliance plan including new operating procedures, comprehensive re-training of its employees and contractors, and periodic reporting requirements.
“Consumers with hearing and speech disabilities rely on the TRS Fund for the kind of basic communications that most Americans take for granted, picking up the phone and calling a family member, the police department, or even a potential employer,” Ellison said. “This settlement is the latest in the commission’s efforts to ensure the continued integrity of the Fund and the reliability and quality of TRS service,” she added.
The VRS provided by CSDVRS and others is an Internet-based form of TRS that enables use of American Sign Language. Using broadband video over a computer or other device, the caller speaks in sign language to the VRS provider’s interpreter, who relays the call in real time to the hearing recipient. The service has become increasingly important because conversations can be conducted more quickly and seamlessly than through traditional text-based TRS services.
Click here to read the consent decree.