The text telephony exemption
As we rapidly move forward with VoIP around the world, adoption rates are not uniform across all households and businesses. For example, unreliable access to 911 and the requirement for constant power backup have been obstacles for households with the elderly, young children, or people with disabilities to upgrade to VoIP. However, these obstacles are gradually being removed by alternative arrangements such as E911 and portable generators.
Therefore, households and businesses in urban or dense areas have already migrated to VoIP, while others still rely on landlines, although that number is steadily decreasing every year. However, it’s not just landlines that are falling by the wayside. Many other services and technologies that rely on the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) are also struggling to keep up with the conversion to IP networks.
One such technology is TTY, which is used by millions of people with hearing and speech impairments. It was developed in the 1960s and for communication through typing rather than speaking / listening. As long as both users have a TTY device, they can communicate by typing responses. Even if a user does not have access to such a device, they can use TRS, in which an operator transcribes a person’s message and sends it to the other user who has a TTY device. The other person can type a response that the operator reads aloud to allow two-way communication.
With the migration to IP networks, telephone operators cannot support TTY because it does not work reliably in a data environment. However, many providers are working on the development of a replacement technology called RTT or real-time text to fulfill the same function, but it will work better on IP networks. However, RTT is not mature enough to completely replace TTY in one go. So to allow operators to move forward in replacing TTY with RTT, the FCC has granted exemptions to AT&T (and will do so for other operators as well) that will exempt the provider from complying with existing TTY regulations, subject to certain conditions.
As long as AT&T periodically informs its customers of alternative means of contacting 911, since TTY will not work, they can move forward with the RTT implementation. The exemption will be in effect until December 31, 2017 or until new regulations for RTT are approved. In effect, the waivers ensure that people with hearing or speech disabilities will continue to have some form of communication available during the transition to new technology.