Today's Regulatory Mix: FCC Grants TRS Waivers in Light of COVID-19, FCC Waives E-Rate and RHC Gift Rules, FTC Outlines Response to COVID-19
FCC Grants TRS Waivers in Light of COVID-19
The FCC has granted Telecommunications Relay Service providers temporary waivers to better enable American Sign Language interpreters to work from home in order to maintain relay services during the current coronavirus pandemic for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind, or have a speech disability. The FCC also temporarily waived certain other TRS rules to provide flexibility to providers and allow them to continue to provide these services. The waivers will generally remain in effect until May 15, 2020. For video relay service providers, the rules waived include the cap on the percentage of a VRS provider’s conversation minutes that may be handled by at-home CAs; the requirement that at-home CAs have at least three years of experience as a call center CA or as an interpreter; and the requirement that virtual teaming be available to at-home CAs for any VRS call. For non-VRS TRS service, the FCC waived the daily speed-of-answer standard conditional on the TRS provider ensuring that 85% of calls are answered within 120 seconds, measured on a monthly basis.
In response to the waiver, FCC Chairman Pai said, in part: “The FCC is taking decisive action to ensure that communications services of all kinds are available to Americans whose lives have been disrupted during the coronavirus pandemic. This latest step—making regulatory adjustments to enable Americans with disabilities to continue to rely on telecommunications relay services—is an important component of our overall goal of ensuring that we Keep Americans Connected.”
FCC Waives E-Rate and RHC Gift Rules
The FCC has waived, on its own motion, waived its gift rules applicable to the Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate programs, to assist rural health care providers and schools and libraries affected by the coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19. The waiver will enable service providers to offer, and RHC and E-Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved capacity, Wi-Fi hotspots, networking gear, or other things of value to assist health care providers, schools, and libraries as well as doctors and patients, teachers, students, school administrators, and librarians and patrons during the during the COVID-19 outbreak without running afoul of FCC rules. These gifts could include but are not limited to free upgrades to connections, connected devices, equipment, and other services for RHC program participants who provide care via telemedicine and free broadband connections, devices, or other services that support remote learning for students and teachers who will be taking classes at and providing instruction from home as a result of COVID-19. The FCC will continue to monitor the situation and determine whether an additional extension of this waiver is warranted. The order is effective immediately
FTC Outlines Response to COVID-19
The FTC announced various actions it is taking in response to the changing circumstances associated with the coronavirus. Specifically:
- Most FTC employees are working remotely, with limited exceptions for emergency personnel and staff who must be in the office to perform mission-essential work.
- Unplanned visitor access to FTC facilities has been suspended. Almost all internal and external meetings will be handled by telephone or videoconference, and parties should assume that meetings will be held remotely, rather than in-person, until further notice.
All non-critical domestic and international travel has been suspended.
The Regulatory Mix, Inteserra’s blog of telecom related regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of an Inteserra Briefing.