FCC Announces Intent to Automate Phone Captions

By Kathi Mestayer

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced in the Federal Register that it intends to allow telephone captions (IPCTS) to be 100 percent provided by automated speech-recognition (ASR) software. I wrote about how it's done currently by a human/software "team."

FCC phone captions.jpg

The change would save money by making the role of the human captioning assistants optional. But nobody knows what the effect would be on caption quality, as there are no current standards for accuracy or delay in telephone captioning provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and regulated by the FCC.

Underscoring that issue is the letter posted by a group of consumer groups, which states:

"The Commission is putting the cart before the horse by allowing ASR-based IP CTS services without developing standards and metrics for the provision of IP CTS to ensure that consumers receive robust service from all providers, regardless of the underlying technologies used to provide the service. Inaccurate and unreliable IP CTS service stand to substantially harm consumers who rely on them for communications with family, friends, employers, and commercial transactions and lack the means to qualitatively compare services in advance."

That document, available online, was filed by the Hearing Loss Association of America, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., National Association of the Deaf, and Gallaudet University’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The public comment period for this proposed change is open until Sept. 17, 2018. You can submit a formal comment at the top of the page in the Federal Register that announces the proposal.

Kathi Mestayer is a Hearing Health magazine staff writer.

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FCC Improves Phone Accessibility for People with Hearing Loss

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, October 24 approved updates to various Commission rules for hearing aid compatibility and volume control on wireline and wireless telephones.

Under the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act, the Commission is required to establish rules that ensure access by people with hearing loss to telephones manufactured or imported for use in the United States. With this action, the Commission continues its efforts to ensure that tens of millions of Americans with hearing loss have access to and can benefit from critical and modern communication technologies and services.


With the Order, the Commission adopted a revised volume control standard for wireline handsets to provide a more accurate measurement of voice amplification. The Order also implements a provision of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act to apply all the Commission’s hearing aid compatibility requirements to wireline telephones used with advanced communication services, including phones used with Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services. Compliance with these provisions must be achieved within two years.

Recognizing the increased reliance on wireless phones, the Order further requires that, within the next three years, all wireless handsets newly certified as hearing aid compatible must include volume control suitable for consumers with hearing loss. It also reminds manufacturers and service providers of existing outreach obligations to ensure that consumers are informed about the availability of hearing aid compatible phones, such as by posting information about wireless phones on their websites.

More information on existing FCC hearing aid compatibility rules is available online at https://www.fcc.gov/general/hearing-aid-compatibility-and-volume-control.

Action by the Commission October 24, 2017 by Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (FCC 17-135). Chairman Pai, Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel approving. Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr approve in part and dissent in part. Chairman Pai, Commissioners Clyburn, O’Rielly and Carr issuing separate statements.

CG Docket No. 13-46; WT Docket No. 07-250; WT Docket No. 10-254

This press release was republished with permission from the FCC. For additional information, contact Michael Snyder at (202) 418-0997 or michael.snyder@fcc.gov.

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Real-Time Text: The FCC Makes It Official

By Kathi Mestayer

This will be the standard symbol for real-time text, from the RTT    website   .

This will be the standard symbol for real-time text, from the RTT website.

Have you ever been on a phone call, slowly spelling out the word you just used? And finding out how very similar fifteen and fifty sound? Or how tough it is to communicate a word such as “impingement,” even if you do spell it?

The good news is that the FCC has now enacted the long-awaited transition to providing real-time text (RTT) by cellphone providers. "Real-time text allows characters to be sent as they are created without hitting ‘send,’” according to the Dec. 15, 2016, FCC press release. “This allows text to be sent at the same time as voice communications, permitting a more conversation-friendly service.”

People with hearing loss will now be able to clarify (or receive clarification) of spoken content by quickly texting the word(s) to the other party, without interrupting the ongoing conversation (or hitting “send”).

This action is discussed briefly in Hearing Health’s Winter 2017 issue here (before the official adoption of the rules by FCC had been completed).  

The new FCC rules require large phone carriers to make RTT available by the end of this year. The first phase would require users to download an app, but RTT would eventually be built into phones.  

According to Christian Vogler, the director of Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program, AT&T worked closely with Gallaudet at various stages of planning for RTT. In one case the testing made it possible to show “how well it held up under network conditions that can be too poor even for voice calls.”

“Too poor for voice calls”—who hasn’t been there? Very soon we’ll have another option. For more information, see the RTT website.

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Closed Captioning: Keeping the Pace

By Kathi Mestayer

“You’ve done your best,” I heard the character on a “Law & Order” rerun say. A few seconds later, the closed captioning read, “You’re under arrest.” The delay was only a few seconds, but it was enough so that I couldn’t listen, read lips, and read the captions at the same time.

When the caption timing is better (which is most of the time), reading, hearing, and lipreading are seamless. But those few seconds’ delay made it impossible, amounting to captioning that was of little value.

I visited the website for the Federal Communications Commission, and entered the information about the show, channel, time, date, and the problem with the captions. Here’s the link. (Scroll down to “Closed Captioning” and then complete the online form.)

About two weeks later, I received a (paper) letter from the FCC to the effect that the report had been received and forwarded to my cable provider, Cox. Within a few days, I got a phone call from a representative from my cable provider, who was concerned about the captioning problem. (She has a hearing loss herself.) She said she would check into it and asked me to let her know if I noticed the captioning was delayed again, and to please note the time, date, and channel, so she could track it down. 

A couple of days later, she called to say it was fixed!  

This was to me astoundingly quick customer service, thanks to the FCC. If you notice a significant delay (or other problem) in closed captioning, report it to the FCC. It can be fixed—but only if someone notices and lets them know.

Hearing Health magazine staff writer Kathi Mestayer serves on advisory boards for the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Greater Richmond, Va., chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

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