One major wireless provider is accusing two others of failing to provide networks that are compatible for people with hearing disabilities, as they’re required to do by law.
AT&T this week sent a letter to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), saying that T-Mobile and Sprint started offering Wi-Fi calling on smartphones without first seeking waivers from the FCC’s TTY (teletypewriter) rules. TTY devices for the deaf and speech-impaired can be used with cell phones, and the FCC requires that wireless networks are able to transmit 911 calls made using TTY devices.
In the letter, AT&T claimed that T-Mobile and Sprint have been offering Wi-Fi calling services for more than a year on Android devices and for several months on iOS devices — even though TTY devices do not operate reliably over Wi-Fi.
AT&T wants a temporary waiver of the rules so that it can prepare an RTT (real-time text) service to replace TTY. It has petitioned the FCC to change its rules so that providers can replace TTY with RTT service. Until the FCC makes its decision, which could take months, AT&T wants to be able to offer Wi-Fi to compete with Sprint and T-Mobile.
The wireless carrier said it intended to offer Wi-Fi calling beginning last month, but wasn’t able to because it hadn’t received the waiver it had requested. The sore spot for AT&T is that “our competitors provide those services in defiance of the commission’s rules.” The FCC said it is reviewing AT&T’s request of a waiver of the TTY requirement.
In its letter to Wheeler, AT&T said that it has been testing a RTT system that it claimed is superior to TTY. It said it had demonstrated the technology to both FCC staff and advocacy groups representing the disabled. The advocacy groups would like RTT to be implemented as soon as possible, and have informed the FCC that they support AT&T’s waiver request as long as it’s for a limited time.
Groups Back AT&T
In a separate letter to the FCC, a coalition of groups representing the disabled said AT&T’s efforts to advance RTT technology will still allow users to transmit text character by character, but without the reliability and transmission issues that have plagued TTY services when they run on IP networks.
Many TTY users have switched to newer technologies, but the system continues to be used by people who don’t have Internet or broadband access. TTY also allows direct access to 911 emergency services.
TTY lets the deaf and speech-impaired use keyboard-enabled devices to type messages to each other over their phones’ networks. For calls between a disabled person and a non-disabled person, a telecommunications relay service operator relays the text of the calling party in voice to the called party, and converts to text what the called party voices back to the calling party, according to the FCC.