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Eliminate the Cap?

Video Relay Providers, Advocates Back Proposed Changes to Remote Call Handling

Video relay service providers and accessibility advocacy organizations welcomed the FCC's NPRM proposing to increase the number of minutes a communications assistant may handle remotely and reevaluating CAs' experience requirements, in comments posted Tuesday in docket 03-123 (see 2206300058). Some repeated their requests for the FCC to consider functional equivalence and sought to have the monthly cap on minutes eliminated.

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The "historic interpreter shortages have been exacerbated by ... the growing employee shortages that have plagued our economy generally" since the COVID-19 pandemic, said GlobalVRS. The FCC should consider an "expedited adoption of fully compensable specialized provider cost reimbursement," the VRS provider said, and promote "technical advancements and functional equivalency." It backed eliminating the cap on minutes handled by CAs working at home: "A provider’s first practical challenge under any cap would be how to direct calls between call center and at-home-based interpreters when approximating the cap."

A monthly cap on minutes is "unnecessary due to both practical necessities that will ensure a continuation of call center operations and the fact that requiring a specific percentage of call center-based VRS is not necessary to protect consumers," said Sorenson Communications. Sorenson also backed eliminating the requirement that CAs wishing to work at home have three years of experience providing interpretation services. The FCC's rules "already impose training and competency requirements generally applicable to video interpreters, and there is no need for additional minimum-experience requirements specific to at-home video interpreters," it said.

VRS providers have "demonstrated that they can incorporate both remote and contract interpreters into their workforces without any service degradation or increase in waste, fraud, or abuse," said Convo Communications. Convo backed increasing the monthly cap of minutes handled at home to 80% and eliminating the experience requirement. It also supported relaxing the current preregistration requirement regarding international travel to "allow a user to provide notice to their default VRS provider at any time prior to placing a call from an international location." Expanding the eligibility for remote CAs would allow for "increased flexibility for smaller providers" to "dynamically adjust staffing levels in response to demand fluctuations."

More than a dozen consumer advocacy organizations asked the FCC to "maintain and enhance necessary safeguards for VRS while acting to increase the supply of CAs." Raise the maximum monthly percentage of VRS minutes handled by remote CAs to 80%, with annual self-certifications, said the coalition, which included the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., National Association of the Deaf, Communication Service for the Deaf, Deaf Seniors of America, Gallaudet University's Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, National Deaf Black Advocates and the National Association for State Relay Administration. The groups also asked the FCC to retain the experience requirement for CAs "for optimum VRS quality."