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FCC Adopts Rules to Facilitate Transition from TTYs to Real-Time Text Technology

In a historical open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to facilitate a transition from text telephony (TTY) technology to real-time text (RTT) technology on December 15, 2016.  In the Report and Order, the FCC:

  • Permits wireless service providers and handset manufacturers to support RTT in lieu of TTY technology;
  • Ensures RTT users will be able to call 911 for emergency services and 711 for relay services;
  • Defines RTT to be interoperable across networks and devices and backward compatible with TTYs;  and
  • Establishes a phased rollout of RTT for wireless networks from December 31, 2017 to June 2021.

In the accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rule making (FNPRM), the FCC seeks comment on:

  • A timeline to sunset its requirement for RTT to be backward compatible with TTY;
  • Integration of RTT into telecommunications relay service operations, and
  • Real-time text features that may be needed for people with cognitive disabilities and people who are deaf-blind.

(The FCC will announce the public comment due dates for the FNPRM when these become available.)

Claude Stout, TDI Executive Director shares with TDI members:

“Last Thursday’s formal action for Real Time Text Technology (RTT) by the five-member Federal Communications Commission was historic, in terms of impact and system change for many Americans who will benefit enormously from using this direct mode of communication every day over the IP networks. This technology will not just benefit Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing, but their hearing family members, friends, colleagues in the workplace, service providers, and others.

This will help provide an additional kind of accommodations that we can use with our hearing peers in any life activity area, such as education, employment, human services, civics, leisure and recreation, commerce, transportation, and etc.  Those who are deaf and hard of hearing will feel more included and independent in the general community.

We give our deepest gratitude to all parties in government, industry, academia, and consumer advocacy for making possible this communication tool for its effective deployment in the marketplace.  We look forward to working with all parties to see to that this technology reaches its full promise and potential as a mainstream benefit for everyone involved.”

Eight years ago, an article written by Mr. Stout appeared in TDI World Magazine, pushing for federal adoption of RTT technology.  The article was sent as an email, on December 8, 2016, to the five FCC commissioners thanking them for taking on RTT as an agenda item for the December 15, 2016 open meeting.  On December 12, 2016, TDI sent out an eNote asking the community to attend the session at FCC headquarters in Washington D.C..

Dr. Christian Vogler, pictured on the left, summed up the contributors to the RTT collaborative effort.  Dr. Vogler, Director of the Technology Access Program (TAP) at Gallaudet University, granted permission for TDI to publish the below recognition:

“This represents a culminating achievement of the work we’ve done over the past five years. Although the article quotes me extensively and highlights my role in this, I would like to emphasize that this has been an immense collaborative effort by many, many people, companies, and organizations.

For instance, Norman Williams solved a user interface puzzle to make RTT a natural thing to people used to messaging. Gallaudet TAP as a whole, especially with Norman Williams, Paula Tucker and Judy Harkins had been working on this for over a decade. Initially this was a part of NIDILRR- funded projects with our partners Gregg Vanderheiden at the Trace Center at the University of Maryland (formerly Wisconsin) and Gunnar Hellström at Omnitor in Sweden. This started long before I even knew TAP existed.

David Bahar of CSD shepherded the first round of RTT recommendations across the finish line in the FCC Disability Advisory Committee (DAC), and Zainab Alkebsi of NAD did the same for the second set of DAC recommendations, which were critical in building consensus between consumers and industry, and showed that we collectively meant business.

Gunnar Hellström of Omnitor and Paul Jones of Cisco co-authored RFC 4103, which is the crucial standard holding all this together. Brian Rosen made sure it became part of next-generation 9-1-1 specifications. Then we have Gunnar’s and Paul Michaelis’s (of Avaya at that time) work in the FCC Emergency Access Advisory Committee to write the TTY transition document, which despite failing to reach consensus on one particular section, was hugely influential and laid out a roadmap. The standards themselves coalesced over many years, with ITU creating the concept of RTT as part of multimedia conversations, with the strong support of Polycom, through Dave Lindbergh. The Swedish Telecom Agency and Ericsson did much to advance the standards work at the IETF and 3GPP, especially through Olle Franceshi of Ericsson, as did Panasonic and Orange later.

We have people like Arnoud van Wijk who tirelessly advocated for RTT and did much to get it off the ground in Europe, which also was critical to be able to point to as a deployment. Gregg and Gunnar have been everywhere, never giving up. Gunnar did a lot of additional legwork on technical standards, above and beyond the call of duty. Gregg was instrumental in framing the adoption of RTT as something that would be a net industry and net regulatory positive, and pushing back against the dilution of the technical standards.

Then we have David Talbott and Matt Terrill at AT&T, who invited us to meet with them at their NJ labs, and after seeing what RFC4103 was capable of, convinced their own company to do a 180-degree turn on the TTY issues, with substantial help from the likes of Susan Mazrui, Aaron Bangor, Linda Vandeloop, and Matt Myrick. Without them the rulemaking wouldn’t even have gotten off the ground. ATIS took up additional standards work. CTIA, CCA, and the major wireless carriers pushed the FCC hard on RTT, right to the end, just as we did.

And don’t forget the FCC – Suzy Rosen Singleton, Bob Aldrich, Eliot Greenwald, Michael Scott, Henning Schulzrinne, Peter Trachtenberg, David Furth, and Karen Peltz Strauss really went to the mat on this and with our help, secured the support of all five FCC Commissioners.

We also have the tireless advocacy of folks like Claude Stout of TDI with Drew Simshaw of Georgetown IPR as pro bono counsel, Lise Hamlin of HLAA, Cheryl Heppner (formerly of NVRC), Howard A. Rosenblum of NAD, and others over the past decade who kept respect for consumers and disability issues at the forefront of FCC proceedings. This probably was instrumental in having some FCC Commissioners go and bat for us in the final order.

I’m probably missing more key individuals here. Please be assured that this in no way was intentional, and I will be glad to acknowledge you if you ping me.”

Last but not least, an online article published at Vice.com mentions TDI.  If you have any questions or comments about Real Time Text technology, please feel free to contact TDI.  Happy Holidays to you all!