NCD Letter to FCC Regarding ITTA Petition

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March 18, 2019

The Honorable Ajit Pai
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai:

On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on policy matters affecting the lives of Americans with disabilities, I write to request that you and your fellow Commissioners soundly reject ITTA’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling, which was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on May 8, 2018.[1]

A Declaratory Ruling allowing telecommunications companies to identify the cost of Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) on telecom invoices would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and would stigmatize people with disabilities as a “cost burden” to society.  The ADA, a law with which NCD has an inextricably connected history, guarantees equal opportunity and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. 

Title IV of the ADA amended the Communications Act of 1934 and requires telecommunications companies to make Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) available for people with hearing loss and/or speech disabilities.  In fact, the ADA requires companies and governments to provide a variety of other accommodations as well. The costs of those legally mandated accommodations, such as building accessible ramps, widening doorways, providing written information in alternative formats like Braille or large print, providing sign language interpreters to facilitate effective communication, etc., are a cost of doing business and have been since the ADA’s passage. The same is true for provision of legally mandated TRS. To specifically identify the cost of an ADA accommodation, which TRS is, on a consumer invoice as a line-item fee or surcharge may serve to chasten persons requiring the accommodation and is antithetical to the purpose of the ADA.

Jeff Rosen (former NCD Chairperson), now General Counsel at Convo Communications (a deaf-owned TRS provider) effectively addressed the seriousness of this issue in his Reply Comments to ITTA’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling, when he stated:

“ITTA’s request [for the FCC] to single out a class of telecommunications users as a cost burden is as egregious as a hotel or restaurant identifying in its bill a line item claiming a surcharge of the cost of providing accommodations generally, such as a ramp, braille signage or captioned television sets; such line items do not exist in other ADA requirements for accessible programs and services because doing so would violate the public’s understanding that it is a civil right which extends to all in society, not a special service for certain people.”[2]

NCD agrees with Convo Communication’s assessment - to specifically identify the cost of an ADA service on a consumer bill singles out groups of people as a financial burden and violates the very essence of the ADA. As the government agency responsible for providing recommendations to other government agencies regarding the implications of policy actions on the welfare of Americans with disabilities, NCD strongly recommends that ITTA’s Petition be denied.

Moreover, NCD is aware that since 1991, the FCC has issued the following Orders prohibiting common carriers from recovering the cost of TRS as a fee, surcharge, or line-item on their customers’ invoices:

  1. In order to provide universal telephone service to TRS users as mandated by the ADA, carriers are required to recover interstate TRS costs as part of the cost of interstate telephone services and not as a specifically identified charge on the subscribers' lines.[3]
  1. In order to provide universal telephone service to TRS users as mandated by the ADA, carriers are required to recover interstate TRS costs as part of the cost of interstate telephone services and not as a specifically identified charge on end user's lines.[4]
  1. We take this opportunity to reiterate that carriers obligated to contribute to the Interstate TRS Fund (e.g., carriers providing interstate telecommunications services) may not specifically identify a charge on their consumers’ bill as one for relay services.[5]
  1.  We reiterate that carriers are not prohibited per se under our existing Truth-in-Billing rules or the Act from including non-misleading line-items on telephone bills.  We note that this finding does not alter the role of any other specific prohibition or restriction on the use of line-items.  For example, this Commission has prohibited line-items for Interstate Telephone Relay Service (TRS) costs.[6]
  1. We note that carriers are not permitted to recover interstate TRS costs as part of a specifically identified charge on end users’ lines.[7]
  1. The Commission has long prohibited carriers from specifically identifying charges for TRS Fund contribution costs in customer bills, and there is no basis for the Bureau to depart in this Order from the Commission’s prior decisions on this point.[8]

For the reasons stated above, we strongly advise the FCC to reaffirm and further solidify its longstanding rule prohibiting telecommunications carriers from identifying the cost of Telecommunications Relay Services (a Title IV, ADA Service) on telecom invoices, as a fee, surcharge, or line-item (both “separate” and “composite”) on customer invoices. 

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss our position on this matter, please contact, Joan Durocher, General Counsel, National Council on Disability at jdurocher@ncd.gov.

Respectfully,

Neil Romano
Chairman

 

cc:   Michael O’Rielly, FCC Commissioner

Brendan Carr, FCC Commissioner

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner

Goeffrey Starks, FCC Commissioner

Patrick Webre, FCC Bureau Chief, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

Kurt Schroeder, FCC Chief, Consumer Policy Division & Information Access & Privacy Office

 

 




[1]              Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, CG Docket No. 03-123, Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format ITTA Petition for Declaratory Ruling Regarding TRS Line Item Descriptions, CG Docket No. 98-170, Petition for Declaratory Ruling of ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers (filed May 8, 2018).

[2]              Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and

Speech Disabilities, CG Docket No. 03-123, Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format, ITTA Petition for Declaratory

Ruling Regarding TRS Line Item Descriptions, CG Docket No. 98-170, Reply Comments of Convo

Communications, LLC, p. 1 (filed July 3, 2018).

[3]              Telecommunications Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, CC Docket No. 90-571, Report and Order and Request for Comments, 6 FCC Rcd 4657 (1991).

[4]              Telecommunications Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Order on Reconsideration, Second Report and Order, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 8 FCC Rcd 1802, ¶ 22 (1993).

[5]              Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, CC Docket Nos. 90-571, 98-67, CG Docket No. 03-123, Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 19 FCC Rcd 12475, ¶ 8, n.33 (2004).

[6]              Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates’ Petition for Declaratory Ruling Regarding Truth-in-Billing, CC Docket No. 98-170, CG Docket No. 04-208, Second Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 20 FCC Rcd. 6448, ¶ 23, n.64.

[7]              Universal Service Contribution Methodology, A National Broadband Plan For Our Future, WC Docket No. 06-122, GN Docket No. 09-51, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 27 FCC Rcd 5357, ¶ 394, n.617 (2012).

[8]              Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, Structure and Practices of the Video Relay Service Program, CG Docket No. 03-123, CG Docket No. 10-51, Order, 30 FCC Rcd 7063, ¶ 14 (2015).