FCC Further Reforms IP CTS Program

In a unanimous decision at its February open meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) further reforming its IP Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) program, which is part of the telecommunications relay service (“TRS”). After the IP CTS program grew to 80 percent of the costs covered by TRS, last June the FCC approved a package of reform measures to control costs by imposing interim compensation rates to bring compensation closer to FCC determined actual average provider costs. In the instant Order, the FCC takes steps (over the objections of the IP CTS providers) to address potential waste, fraud and abuse by requiring IP CTS providers to submit user registration information to the existing video relay service (“VRS”) Database to limit program access to only those determined to be eligible to use IP CTS. The Commission also granted waivers of its emergency call handling requirements to reduce the requirements on IP CTS providers to relay certain information to PSAPs and initiate reconnection of a disconnected 911 call. The FNPRM proposes additional changes, including making permanent the emergency call handling requirement changes granted by waiver. Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 45 days after publication.

IP CTS, which provides real-time captions for telephone conversations, is an easy and convenient service to use without special equipment, which can facilitate its improper use by those without disabilities, potentially, according to the FCC, as a result of marketing by the IP CTS providers. The FCC came to believe that this may be happening and that such improper use could be a key driver of the recent growth of the program to $892 million a year, which is 80 percent of the total TRS Fund expenditures. In June 2018, the FCC addressed what it believed were excessive rates by setting compensation rates based on actual average provider costs. In this Order, the FCC addresses potential waste, fraud and abuse of IP CTS by, for the first time, requiring service providers to pass through certain information from users to the VRS Database, which is to be matched against provider-submitted call detail records used for reimbursement. It should be noted, however, that while identities of IP CTS users are verified through the process, eligibility is verified only through a self-certification of eligibility from the user, which is passed along by the service provider to the Database.

A separate Order in the item grants temporary, partial waivers of the IP CTS emergency call-handling requirements to relay certain information to the PSAP and to initiate the reconnection of disconnected 911 calls. The waiver applies for IP CTS configurations where:

(1) a user initiates an IP CTS call by connecting to the IP CTS provider via the Internet—i.e., generally web and wireless-based forms—and (2) the IP CTS provider assigns the user a NANP telephone number that the provider can transmit with a 911 call and that enables a PSAP, designated statewide default answering point, or appropriate local emergency authority to call the user back via IP CTS.

The FCC had already granted a similar waiver to InnoCaption and three other IP CTS providers followed on with similar waiver requests. The waivers are effective until the Commission can address these issues more permanently through the FNPRM proposals discussed below.

Finally, in the FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on additional reforms to the IP CTS program, including requiring IP CTS providers to submit a unique account identifier to the TRS Fund in monthly call detail records submitted for compensation and allowing IP CTS providers to provide service to new and porting users for up to two weeks pending the completion of identity verification by the Database administrator. (As the FCC has found in several programs, identity verification is not a perfect process and a dispute resolution or appeal process becomes necessary, which can take additional time to resolve.) The FNPRM also seeks comment on amending the FCC’s rules to modify its emergency call handling requirements consistent with the waiver granted.