Wednesday, March 3, 2010

FCC Ruling gives me NO CONFIDENCE in our ability to Manage Health Care in Government...

Today, we all seek some comfort in knowing our government and it’s officials can demonstrate the ability to properly manage their areas of responsibility, we wish for thoughtful decisions that will ultimately improve our world. I want to believe it can come from our Government, but the February 25, 2010 NEW FCC RULING affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals and VRS companies gives me great doubt.

· Why the comparison to the Telecommunications industry?
· Who is the FCC?
· What are you talking about – Deaf/HH and VRS and especially this ruling?
· Why do I care/what difference does it make?
· Who should I contact to share YOUR CHOICE?

Why the comparison to the Telecommunications industry?

Much like Health Care, Telecommunications has become such a common tool that its use is essential for participation in nearly all aspects of our society. Today, most Americans rely on telecommunications for routine daily activities, such as making doctors' appointments, calling home when they are late for dinner, participating in conference calls at work, and making airline reservations. Moreover, diverse telecommunications tools such as distance learning, telemedicine, telecommuting and video conferencing enable Americans to interface anytime from anywhere.

Telecommunications is a critical tool for employment. If telecommunications technologies are not accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, many qualified individuals will not be able to work or achieve their full potential in the workplace. Congress recognized the importance of creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities with Title I of the ADA, which addresses the employer's responsibilities in making the workplace accessible to employees with disabilities. Many FCC telecommunications access rules complement Title I of the ADA by giving employers expanded tools with which to employ and accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to telecommunications is essential in bringing a great measure of independence to members of the disability community. Access to telecommunications services also plays a critical role in life-threatening emergencies.

Who is the FCC?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.
The FCC staff is organized by function. There are seven operating Bureaus and ten Staff Offices. The Bureaus’ responsibilities include: processing applications for licenses and other filings; analyzing complaints; conducting investigations; developing and implementing regulatory programs; and taking part in hearings. FCC Offices provide support services. Even though the Bureaus and Offices have their individual functions, they regularly join forces and share expertise in addressing Commission issues.

The Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau educates and informs consumers about telecommunications goods and services and engages their input to help guide the work of the Commission. CGB coordinates telecommunications policy efforts with industry and with other governmental agencies — federal, tribal, state and local — in serving the public interest.

The Disability Rights Office (DRO) of the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau addresses disability-related telecommunications matters, including telecommunications relay service (TRS), access to telecommunications equipment and services by persons with disabilities (Section 255), access to emergency information, and closed captioning. DRO also provides expert advice and assistance, as required, to other Bureaus and Offices, consumers, industry, and others on issues relevant to persons with disabilities. DRO initiates rulemakings, where appropriate, for the development of disability policy; reviews relevant agenda items and other documents and coordinates with Bureaus and Offices to develop recommendations and propose policies to ensure that communications are accessible to persons with disabilities, in conformance with existing disability laws and policies, and that they support the FCC's goal of increasing accessibility of communications services and technologies for persons with disabilities.

The FCC is the regulatory body for Video Relay Service (VRS) in the United States. In addition to overseeing VRS, the FCC also oversees Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), from which the VRS regulatory framework has evolved. The FCC oversees TRS and VRS as a result of their mandate in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to facilitate the provisions equal access to individuals with disabilities over the telephone network.
Funding for VRS is provided via the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Fund, which was created by the FCC, originally to fund TRS services. Funding for the TRS comes from a CONTRIBUTION FACTOR on the revenue from all telecommunications companies operating in the US. The contribution factor on revenue is set by the FCC yearly and has been steadily increasing as the number of VRS minutes continues to climb. For 2007 the tax is 7.2/100ths of a penny per dollar of revenue, up from 3.8/100th of a penny in 2000. As an example, a revenue tax of .0072 is expected to only generate $553 million against telecommunications industry revenue of $76.8 billion. The fund is managed by National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), which also administers the much larger Universal Service Fund and publishes the reimbursement rates paid to providers.

The United States citizens should note that Video Relay is not government funded. Our telephone carriers/companies are required to make this service available because of the ADA law. A telecommunications carrier contributes 0.01137% of their telephone service revenue to make these services available. For the the customers of these telecommunication companies, it represents pennies to hearing people to allow this wonderful service for our deaf and hard of hearing.

In addition to regulating the funding of VRS, the FCC regulates the standards that VRS companies and their employees must follow in handling calls. These regulations ensure that VRS calls are handled appropriately and ethically.

What are you talking about – Deaf/HH and VRS and especially this ruling?

Video Relay Service (VRS)
is relatively new, reimbursement by the FCC started in 2002. The Video Relay Service is the FIRST communication advancement for Deaf/HH individuals to have "functional equivalence" in the workplace and home. This basic ability to provide what hearing people call "dial tone" is a break through for ensuring Deaf/HH individuals the ability to speak in their native language ASL.

Traditional jobs that hearing people take for granted are now available through VRS to our Deaf/HH citizens. New innovative technology integration will allow them to attain positions they never before had a chance, thereby meeting Equal Employment Opportunity through this great ADA law. Diversity Managers in large and small corporations no longer have to worry about “additional expenses” OR “company customers satisfaction/experience” when attempting to hire deaf and hard of hearing persons. Many people do not realize that before this wonderful technology (VRS) and all the contributors to improve it (Functional Equivalence) that the cost to hire a deaf/hh person could not be justified. A business simply can not lose money just to be socially responsible – the business will not exist without a profit.

Parents of Deaf and Hard of Hearing along with people who become deaf/hh are learning American Sign Language (ASL). They are becoming productive in traditional jobs hearing people take for granted. Through the innovation and competition of VRS companies, we are becoming a productive society.

February 25, 2010 FCC Ruling:

“In this Declaratory Ruling, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (Bureau) addresses the compensability from the Interstate TRS Fund (Fund) of certain types of calls made through Video Relay Service (VRS), a form of Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS).[1] First, we emphasize that VRS calls made by or to a VRS provider’s employee, or the employee of a provider’s subcontractor, are not eligible for compensation from the TRS Fund on a per-minute basis from the Fund, but rather as business expenses. Second, we emphasize that VRS calls placed for the purpose of generating compensable minutes are not, and never have been, compensable from the Fund. Finally, we emphasize that two categories of calls do not meet the definition of TRS or otherwise are not compensable from the Fund under plain statutory language: (1) VRS Voice Carry Over used to connect two hearing users and (2) VRS calls used to connect two users who are both outside the United States.”

It is the “First” section (bolded by this author) that is not a thoughtful decision (RULING) for several reasons:
1) VRS Employees range from Sales & Marketing, Accounting, Information Technology, Product Development, Payroll, Human Resources, Operations and Legal.

2) Definitions of FCC Expenses only cover a RANGE of Employment categories and therefore NOT a Business Expense and NOT considered in setting Rates according to FCC instructions and worksheet

3) What happened to Functional Equivalence based upon 1 and 2 above?

4) To illustrate the confusions: FCC website mentions the importance of participating on Conference Calls, which their website at recognizes. What sales person has ever worked for a company that did not discuss it’s products, pipeline, quotas, product/service details and goals? Do you realize the way the FCC wrote this, it appears the VRS companies should compute this as a business expense but then denies the ability to treat it as a business expense in the worksheet and instructions. The same thing applies for 90% of the deaf and hard of hearing people working for a VRS company.

5) Another illustration: Deaf/HH individual in Accounting calls a corporation to collect funds owed for a Community Services job, this is now NOT reimbursable just because it is also a VRS company.

6) And on and on and on….

Finally, I understand that ONE VRS COMPANY has been issued a demand for payment of $19 million for previous years based upon this new RULE. I also understand that the FCC/NECA is NOT PAYING the VRS company for previous month minutes. I have always believed that our government and I should always do the “RIGHT THING”. This type of retroactive demand is simply unfair and leads any reader to believe that there must be a hidden agenda. To create a NEW RULE and make this retroactive is crazy. To indicate in the ruling that came out February 25, 2010 and refer to a requirement to fill out Business Expense on February 15, 2010 to determine NECA rates is ridiculous. Besides, as mentioned earlier, the so called Business Expense for these Deaf/HH employees/contractors will not be allowed anyway acccording to the FCC Instructions for the form! This company should take the minutes produced by their employees times the $4.20 and request credit for the so called debt owed.

The ONLY way to make this decision by the FCC “Right” is to implement this decision and adjust the Reimbursable rate at the same time OR allow this company to deduct direct costs for these employee/ contractor minutes at the published FCC VRS costs (approx $4.20 per minute) thereby creating a credited to the FCC debt request. Most importantly, for crying in a bucket, timely pay them for their minutes they already submitted!

Why do I care/what difference does it make?

It is important to evaluate what we allow as a society to “hand over” to the government. With that said, I still would need to break down “why you should care” into two groups so you understand the decisions that need to be made:

For HEARING PEOPLE: Bottom line, this is a simple decision for you. You can pay the insignificant amount our Interstate Telecommunications company’s charge us for this VRS service, in fact you could probably double, triple or quadruple it and care less – it is insignificant and as much less than a penny. If you DISAGREE with the NEW FCC RULING described above then you should find out more, ask questions and know the impact to you indirectly. If you AGREE with the New FCC Ruling (bolded) – then I worry you have not considered the number of Deaf/HH people that will be laid off, unemployment compensation, higher health care costs, foreclosures and other cascading impacts to you indirectly.

For DEAF and HARD OF HEARING PEOPLE: I am so sorry. Someone once told me in the 1960’s that a White man cannot know what is like to be a Black man, because they are not Black. This is the same thing. I am not sure anyone can explain that VRS companies are Corporations, not government. They seek profits. The major employer of Deaf/HH people are VRS, VRI, Text and On-site interpreting companies. To think the major employer for you was just “killed” through this new rule is sickening. Under this NEW FCC Ruling, you must add approximately $50 PER HOUR to every Deaf/HH individual who works outside the defined FCC direct VRS Expense allowance. I am sure this will reduce the deaf and hard of hearing individuals employed to a minimum (i.e. justified by the FCC as a Expense consideration). Again, I am so sorry, I suggest you advocate for higher rates so you are not cheated.

Society in General: Ever since Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry, the majority of telephone customers have benefited from more choices, lower costs and better service. I mentioned earlier, that I fear there is a hidden agenda. The fear stems from the fact that one VRS provider (Sorenson) already owns 80% of the market with no new product improvement. All the new mobile devices and home devices deaf/hh innovations are by other companies. The decisions the FCC are making basically disable/cripple and most likely foreclose on the smaller companies leaving one large giant OR MONOPOLY. This is unacceptable. God forbid the government allow this. I could hypothesis a strategy to get to a single provider who could negotiate an consumer insignificant rate with lower quality thereby the two parties win (FCC and Market Dominant Corporation - Sorenson).

Who should I contact to share YOUR CHOICE?

Go to your Congress Person website, look up your local congress person and tell them what you would like to see happen! to

Write directly to the FCC!
Chairman Julius Genachowski 418 1000
Commissioner Michael Copps 418 2000
Commissioner Robert McDowell 418 2200
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn 418 2100
Commissioner Meredith Attwell

[1] TRS is defined in section 225 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Act or Communications Act). See 47 U.S.C. § 225(a)(3); Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, § 401, 104 Stat. 327, 336-69 (1990) (ADA). See also 47 C.F.R. § 64.601(26) (defining VRS); 47 C.F.R. §§ 64.601 et seq. (implementing regulations).


  1. I am furious that the government can suddenly decide to deliver a ruling like this one without going through Congress and allowing debate on the issue. This sounds like Russia. This will put many companies out of business who employ deaf people. What a travesty that this can happen in America. The leaders of this country are headed in a dangerous direction!!

  2. By the way, just so people do not try to post something to this site that attempts to indicate that the FCC VRS fund will go away or that hearing people who pay the Interstate Telecommunication market are not the decision maker on determining whether the amount is acceptable or not - stop now. Additionally, anyone who quotes that Purple had some Telemarketing employees making calls is purely false and already deetermined by the department of justice - so do your reseach before posting any "cr#p" to this site.....

  3. Thanks for posting such a comprehensive perspective on how this FCC ruling will affect the VRS industry, the people employed by VRS companies, and the impact it will have on both Deaf and hearing citizens at large. It ludicrous that the FCC would implement a new ruling and apply it retroactively, essentially crippling VRS companies from continuing to do business and leaving one dominant player to monopolize the industry. Ultimately, the victims are the hard working people who will lose their jobs and the users of the VRS Services who will lose their choice of a preferred VRS provider. Sure, the FCC may save or recoup some money up front, but the government will pay out the other end as more people file for unemployment, apply for welfare and foreclose on their mortgages. It’s a sad day and huge step backwards.

  4. Wow- this is a tragic situation. It is so incredibly sad that the FCC is able to take these actions with out truly hearing from the people that it will effect. One can only hope that our government may intervene at some point to allow justice to be served.

  5. For those individual who did not research all the request that Purple filed with the FCC requesting rule making, shame on you for not doing your homework thinking Purple was not being forthright in trying to bring resolution. Also, those that keep trying to indicate that Deaf/HH participation on a conference call is not normal business practices must never have worked in Corporations.

  6. It appears that the FCC does not allow ONLY deaf and hard of hear people to be on conference calls - so this should not be reimbursable. If there is at least one hearing perosn on the call, then that is reimbursable. I agree, as a hearing person, makes no sense not to have conference calls as part of a normal operation. Seems as though the FCC went to an extreme by taking away from the deaf and hard of hearing the service all together and then turned around and bankrupt a small company. Very sad day in Government.

  7. This is what happens when large national companies engage in fraud.

    They all come under review, and people suffer.

    Instead of blaming the government for taking prudent steps, maybe we should discuss why our community is so willing to blind itself.

  8. How can the government do this? This is not fair at all.
    This is going to hurt the industry worse by putting the smaller companies out of business.

  9. This post was very helpful! Thanks! Researching this fraud issue lead to a company called Viable. They obviously started this whole thing. I believe that the government (FCC) is creating rules that are now out of control and affecting the rights and our economy - this MUST STOP. I agree - double my costs to keep these people employed, I will save money by not having to pay their unemployment and medical costs! Purple Communications seems to agreement on making any mistake right, but it appears the FCC will not work with them according to their press release.

  10. If a group of only deaf and hard of hearing meet via tele-conference-- why do each one of them need an interpreter (VRS) to relay the conversation with each other?? What a bogus way to conduct business (unless they are required to communicate with some hearing employees) Is it the corporate's responsibility to develop a conference video system that deaf and hard of hearing employees can communicate with each other-- The cost incurred from this technology would be best definited as a business expense. Why don't they go extra mile to develop one? If there is a need for that-- why don't they?

  11. Thanks for your wonderful insightful post. I agree with you and we all need to get ahold of our congress person to let them know!

    Many people in the deaf community think that Datastar was somehow part of Purple. They DO NOT know that Datastar (a telemarketing company who had hundres of hearing employees and 10-25 deaf employees)is a seperate company that sole purpose is telemarketing.

    I am sure their deaf employees probably used Purple. I am sure they used Purple because of their high quality interpreters to be functionally equivalent in performance to their hearing counterparts in that company. Deaf people probably do not even understand what telemarketing is or how tough it is to perform in that market.

  12. Great BLOG! I was talking to interpreter and was told that people do not realize that after the September decision to not support conference calls for only deaf people, PURPLE invested into a multi-point conferencing system they rolled out for their deaf employees in January, 2010.

    I am the "brady bunch" approach to communication is a challenge, I sure would like to know how productive they are?

    I also agree that if there is at least a hearing person on the conference call, then it is reimbursable - meets every guideline there is in VRS.

  13. Thanks for the overview, now for more detail to some specific issues I believe you addressed, but I would like to add more.....

    DOUBLE DIPPING comment by the FCC. In this statement, the FCC is presenting that a VRS company can not collect VRS minutes and ALSO include this expense in reimbursement or setting reimbursement rates.

    This is a typical Government JOKE. First of all, the only allowable expense reimbursement that VRS company's are allowed is every quarter for 10 Digit numbering. Second, which I believe your blog covered well, is that fact that on the ANNUAL expense worksheet and instructions there is NO METHOD to even calculate what the cost of non-reimbursable minutes for employees/contractors. Additionally, you again are right, there is no allowance for their OUTREACH (Inside or Outside Sales People) - which I am sure is the majority of their employees since their customers are Deaf.

    Wow - what confusion the FCC has caused with the Deaf consumer. I guess they think the typical consumer does not care - we pay for this program - of course we care. Writing and Calling now......again thanks!

  14. BY the way....missed an important point to the ANNUAL EXPENSE WORKSHEET....The FCC indicates that they use that to set rates, well.....they only do that at THEIR discretion, therefore they may not change rates for years or even reduce them!

    Talk about a dangerous industry - makes NO SENSE!

  15. Interesting. So I calculated the $17 million that the FCC determined Purple owes for their Deaf staff and it comes out to be for the 300 deaf employees 30 minutes a day (Monday through Friday) on the phone (VRS). I wish I only spoke on the phone for 30 minutes in a day in my job!

    This is such a normal function of anyone who works. Your article is good and supports the whole reason ADA exists - to allow these people to work and be productive in today's society!

    I agree, this is completely wrong for the FCC to put such a ruling down (retroactive is rediculous!) when the whole purpose of us funding it is to get these people working.

    I understand that 60% of deaf people are unemployed. This kind of ruling will make it worse, since I would guess that VRS companies are probably their largest employer and advocate to assist them in getting a job.

    Writing my congreeman now. Thanks.

  16. Interesting, according to the cost data for VRS provider on the FCC website, how can they charge Purple Communication $17 million when it cost them $12 million in VRS direct costs (Centers, technology, interpreters)?

    There was no way Purple can DOUBLE dip according to their FCC rules. The cost data is simply to establish rates and VRS minutes produced by their own employees are not in the cost data - it is not allowed and there is no methodology to even do it.

    The FCC is turning this into a "hidden agenda" per your blog.

  17. From what I amd reading I think the FCC needs to be investigated by Congress. Their actions against Purple tell me that the FCC is trying to recoup the costs of TRS and VRS plus make a profit at the same time.

  18. Holy Cow!! So, if we move HEALTH CARE to Government, we COULD potentially have a RULING by the REGULATORS because one provider falsified reimbursement claims that basically says their employees can no longer use THEIR service and in turn could bankrupt the Health Care provider because the previous two years are non-reimbursable! Followed by fear of existence, fear of care, fear of quality, fear of control.....ALL FEAR!


    The government organization (appears to be the FCC in this case) that made the decision was not only unsightful, the retroactive portion of this is the FEAR we all have in "CONTROL" this government administration seems to seek.

    Also, Is this the "Hidden Agenda" on HEALTH CARE, to have ONE single provider to control the whole industry? I will NEVER vote for it simply because these type of decisions represent why government can not manage it.

  19. Question that came in: I fail to see how the telecommunications part of the ADA can be translated to an "employment of the deaf" act.

    Answer: You don't know what you don't know. Meaning you don't know you are descriminating because of ignorance. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. The ADA also outlaws discrimination against individuals with disabilities in State and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. This part of the ADA that prohibits job discrimination. This part of the law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and State and local civil rights enforcement agencies that work with the Commission.

    The fact is, 60% of our deaf/hh people are unemployed. The fact is, the only jobs really available to them are jobs that do not require communication. The fact is, most company's invision the painful TTY communication and high cost of these people as a barrier to employment and their mission to provide the company's service to their customers. The fact is, VRS has changed that whole playing field. THEREFORE, we have PURPOSELY PREVENTED them from even applying for traditional jobs hearing people take for granted. The customer service representative, the insureance representative, the inside sales representative, the Collection Department, the Help line, and on and on..... are all jobs that Corporate America is JUST LEARNING that these Deaf/HH people can now take which reduces Unemployment, provide reasonable accomodation, provides job opportunities the deaf/hh have never had before.

    Director's of Diversity Planning now can integrate these technical advances into reasonable accomodation in their workforce. Deaf/HH people now have an equal opportunity for employment. Geez, we are talking about such a small population of people, yet we ignore their rights and cripple their ability to be a productive citizen!

    In the end, this is only pennies to us who pay into our interstate telecommunication service WHILE THE RETURN IS ENORMOUS!

  20. Great Comment on ADA/Equal Employment, BUT I feel you left out one important fact....

    IF deaf/hh people have more employment opportunities they can then make money....

    If they can make money, they can then go to college to be educated in more fields/industries.....

    If their are more educated deaf/hh they then can compete equally with the hearing....

    If their are these OPPORTUNITIES, then small children who are deaf/hh can have a VISION to WHO they WANT TO BE when they grow up...

    2 cents...

  21. Wow what a mess. I suggest that Purple contact their US Congressman/woman ( your home state ) and Tom Hawkin ( US Congressman ) of the issue. i dont agree that Purple should pay any amount. It doesnt make any sense ! That is a very serious matter !

  22. I believe FCC ruling against Purple is violating ADA law.
    Robert J. Rademacher Publisher/Developer