FCC Seeks Comment on GM Request for Waiver of RTT Requirements for Autonomous Vehicle Chat Feature

The FCC issued a Public Notice on December 26, 2018 seeking input on a petition from General Motors Holding LLC (“GM”) that requests partial waiver of the interoperability functionalities for accessible real-time text (“RTT”) technology, as defined by the FCC. GM intends to launch an autonomous vehicle (“AV”) ride-hailing service in the near future that will include real time voice communication capability that riders can use to communicate with customer support. GM will also use RTT for such communications and GM seeks to be exempted from certain required RTT interoperability features based on planned limitations of the communications.

Comments on the Public Notice are due by January 25, 2019; and reply comments are due by February 11, 2019.

Under the 2010 Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”), advanced communications services (“ACS”) and devices used with ACS must be made accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities. VoIP services, both interconnected and non-interconnected, as well electronic messaging and interoperable video conferencing services are ACS pursuant to the CVAA. In its petition, GM states that its communications platform will meet the FCC’s definition of a non-interconnected VoIP service and thus, will be subject to CVAA requirements. FCC rules permit covered VoIP services to support RTT capability to meet their CVAA obligations if they do not have compatibility with the older text telephony (“TTY”) technology.

GM intends to make its communication platform accessible by including RTT functionality in the form of a chat application. GM states that its chat app will allow users with a disability to do everything with text that they could do in a traditional voice conversation. GM’s customer service chat will not support the full set of RTT minimum functionalities specified in the rules. Specifically, since the communications platform will serve a limited purpose (contacting customer service) while allowing for accessible communications similar to a voice conversation, GM is requesting that the FCC waive its obligations to provide: (i) RTT-RTT interoperability; (ii) RTT-TTY interoperability; (iii) transmission and receipt of RTT communications from PSAPs; or (iv) simultaneous voice and text. GM also emphasizes the overall benefits that its AV ride service would provide to users with disabilities.

GM’s waiver petition reflects the broad, wide reaching impact of the CVAA and accessibility considerations that non-traditional telecommunications providers need to make when offering services with a communications component that may be implicated by the rules. Device manufacturers and service providers that offer a service that could fall into one of the ACS categories should seek legal guidance to understand their compliance responsibilities.