FCC Extends VRS Waiver Relating to Communications Assistants; Establishes VRS Compensations Formulas
On June 30, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC” or “Commission”) released two Orders concerning telecommunications relay services (TRS).
VRS Waiver Extension
- The 50% cap on call minutes handled by VRS CAs working at home;
- The requirement that CAs working at home have three years of experience as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter; and,
- The ban on contracting with non-VRS-certified entities for VRS interpreting services.
The FCC extended each of these waivers for an additional six months, through December 31, 2023, or the effective date of FCC action amending the waived rules, if earlier.
Telecommunications Relay Services are a disability accommodation that allow individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone in ways that are functionally equivalent to traditional voice calls. VRS is an Internet-based form of TRS that enables the caller to communicate using American Sign language through a video phone and a human relay operator, while IP Relay is a text-based form of TRS. 
To prevent disruption in the provision of VRS during the COVID-19 pandemic, the three requirements were waived, on an emergency basis, in a series of orders by which the waivers remained in effect from early 2020 through June 30, 2022.
Records indicate that a severe shortage of ASL interpreters for VRS CAs still persists, warranting the waivers to stay in place. Recent reports from VRS providers suggest that, despite the waiver extensions, the scarcity of qualified ASL interpreters continues to pose staffing challenges. As a result, VRS providers are increasing compensation to attract and retain these highly skilled workers. By extending these waivers until the proposed rule changes are implemented, the costs and burdens described earlier can be reduced. This will allow providers to retain more CAs and expand their hiring options to include ASL interpreters who may not have been available or willing to work for a VRS provider otherwise.
TRS Fund Order
The second FCC Order establishes the compensation formulas for TRS, the total size of the TRS Fund for the 2023-24 TRS Fund year, and the percentages of revenue that covered service providers must contribute to the TRS Fund. Specifically, the FCC:
- Establishes the compensation formula for traditional (TTY-based) TRS; Speech-to-Speech Relay Service (STS), analog Captioned Telephone Service (CTS), and Internet Protocol (IP) Relay Services from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024.
- Grants temporary waivers to extend the expiration date of the current compensation formulas for Video Relay Service (VRS) through August 31, 2023 and Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Services (IP CTS) through November 30, 2023, or the effective dates of FCC actions establishing compensation formulas for VRS and IP CTS, if earlier.
Since 1993, telecommunications carriers (and later VoIP providers) have been required to contribute to the TRS Fund, on a quarterly basis, a specified percentage of their end-user revenues for the prior year.
TRS Fund Contributions. On June 30, 2022, the Commission amended its rules to provide that TRS Fund contributions for the support of VRS and IP Relay are determined based on each TRS contributor’s total intrastate, interstate, and international end-user revenues, in the same way that contributions for support of IP CTS are calculated. Under the revised rule, telecommunications carriers and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers are required to contribute a percentage of intrastate as well as interstate end-user revenues to fund VRS and IP Relay, beginning July 1, 2023.
VRS Compensation. The current tiered compensation formulas for VRS, adopted by the Commission in 2017, initially were set to expire June 30, 2021. Previously, the FCC extended the compensation plan three times: through December 31, 2021, through June 30, 2022, and through June 30, 2023.
IP CTS Compensation. The current compensation formula for IP CTS, established by the Commission in 2020, was initially set to expire on June 30, 2022, but was extended for good cause by a limited waiver through June 30, 2023. In a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted in December 2022, the Commission sought comment on setting IP CTS compensation for the next period.
IP Relay. On June 30, 2022, the Commission adopted a four-year compensation plan for IP Relay. The Commission set a compensation amount of $1.9576 per minute, subject to annual adjustment by application of an inflation factor based on a cost index compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor. In December 2022, the Commission proposed a technical amendment to clarify how the inflation adjustment factor should be calculated.
Upon receiving the TRS Fund administrator’s recommendations for provider compensation, the TRS Fund budget, and contribution factors for the 2023-24 Fund Year and the comments from the stakeholders, on June 28, the administrator filed a supplement to the annual report, updating the recommended budget and contribution factors and modifying its proposed formula for IP Relay compensation.
The CommLaw Group Can Help!
The CommLaw Group stands by ready to help with every aspect of TRS regulatory compliance. We are happy to answer any questions about the Waiver Extension Order and the TRS Compensation Formulas Order, and work with your company to ensure a smooth path to compliance with the new TRS rules, and to prepare annual reports and other TRS compliance filings mandated by the FCC.