Todd Elliott’s Letter to DOJ

11 09 2014

 Hullo Folks,

This is an interesting approach by Todd Elliott (click to the letter below).  Todd has been a valuable contributor to Edsalert as his comments are often thought-provoking.    This letter certainly is no different.    He chose to express concerns of the VRS Reforms – particularly Neutral Platform to the Dept of Justice. 

Excerpts: 

“I want to cover potential unforeseen consequences that may occur for the ‘Neutral Video Communications Service Provider’ (NCP)..”

“I am of the opinion that the NCP will lower the barriers of entry for competitors in the VRS business.”

“While more competition in the VRS industry is welcome, the unintended consequence of such increased competition will be its impact on scarce community interpreting resources.”

“.. and as a result, led to increased costs in using them in public and private settings,
much to the detriment to Deaf consumers.”

The above excerpts refer to making interpreter service providers into certified VRS providers thus taking away interpreters for community interpreting.

“I would like for someone in the Disability Rights Section of the DOJ to consult/collaborate with their peers at the FCC..”

Click to the link to get the full transcript; I recommend you read the transcript:

Todd’s Letter To DOJ

Not too bad an idea, really to get DOJ involved on access in all aspects – telecommunication, and public services and have DOJ and FCC team up (?) to ensure balance of interpreting services for the deaf/hard-of-hearing individuals.   

The core of local interpreting service providers is to provide community interpreting. Todd is saying please be sensitive to community interpreting needs.  He felt that because DOJ is responsible for “access” into regular public services thus should also check out access to community interpreting services.

He felt that if allowing local interpreting services become certified VRS providers, it would cause frauds, problems not unlike when VRS industry had 52 something VRS providers, and greatly reduced number of interpreters available for local interpreting services. 

eyes open & thumbs up,

Ed

PS: Apologies for not having video on this one, but felt text best serve the purpose.  



Regulator Cap

8 09 2014

 

 

Hello Folks,

 

Been quiet a while on Edsalert.    

 

I will do something different on Neutral Platform (NP) and Reference Platform (RP).  I will take off my Convo corporate cap, take off my edsalert advocate cap, and putting “back” on regulator cap as I was a regulator for 19 years with Texas PUC. Keep in mind, regulator can be a person, agency, or department.   

 

Disclaimer: this will focus on general thinking of typical regulator that is interested in saving costs, and how regulator process the order of NP and RP, not a full comprehensive analysis, and my opinion alone.   

 

Obviously understanding Neutral Platform and Reference Platform should be first order of business.   

 

NP and RP are mandates from FCC which were approved by the president-select FCC Commissioners (at the mercy of political party’s wishes).  As a regulator one must follow through, like it or not.  How to go about it is different matter, and often it is up to regulator to decide how procedure should be done.

 

NP is a service that allows VRS providers and Interpreting Services to utilize one-standard NP system to provide VRS, and RP is a video conference software where interoperability is guaranteed among VRS providers by requiring ONE video codec. 

 

As a regulator, the obvious logical step is to first establish RP first.  Why RP first? NP cannot do without RP.  It is like putting wagon front of horse; it should be horse front of wagon so it can pull wagon. In other words, NP (the wagon) needs video conference program (the horse) to make NP a complete project.  

 

So do RP first and then enforce that required RP among VRS providers and their products; disallow ANY proprietary video codec.  Only designated RP video codec to be used.  

 

Now on to NP which basically is to create government-developed Auto Call Distributor (ACD) by outscoring via Request for Proposal procedure.

 

Once NP is created then regulator has to go through process of reviewing, approving, and certifying Interpreter service providers’s proposals and to determine which should be certified as a VRS provider.  To prevent too many VRS providers as in the past; regulator should restrict to a specified number of VRS providers that will be allowed.  Perhaps no more than 5 to be chosen based on the best proposals submitted.   

 

On other hand, if choose no restriction, then if many of the proposals by interpreter groups “met” the rules then regulator would be forced to approve all interpreter groups to be certified as VRS providers. If that happens and as many as could 50 be selected, that will almost guarantee frauds, cheating, etc. not unlike what had happened in the past.  

 

So limitation option will likely be chosen by regulator. 

 

Interpreter groups that got rejected may file lawsuit(s) against FCC as they might feel they met the regulations to the letter.  Regulator likely will risk that anyway as it is much, much harder for a regulator to oversee 56 VRS providers..

 

Role of typical regulator is always to keep the cost low. Regulator likely will think like these following orders: 

 

  • by creating NP, regulator can take out most of the cost of building ACD out of reimbursement rates; 
  • by not certifying interpreters, regulator can force minimal salary of interpreters thus reducing reimbursement rates even lower; 
  • by requiring RP, regulator can take out research & development costs of coding video conference programs out of reimbursement rates;
  • by limiting the number of VRS providers to be certified will ensure low oversight costs for regulator; and   
  • by outscoring marketing for national advertising, regulator can take out most of the marketing costs out of reimbursement rates.

 

Reimbursement rates then will be reduced from all these thus overall cost of VRS will be lower.   

 

That is what I think typical regulator would have done as a regulator.  Remember the disclaimer: this is not a full comprehensive analysis, but give an idea of what regulator might do.  

 

Now taking off the regulator cap, and putting edsalert cap back on, it seems common sense that on paper NP may look good, but make no mistake of the fact that it is a government-run and not based on competitive background.   RP should be done first and that, I suspect, will take care of lot of problems to the point possibility where NP may be deemed unnecessary as problems with interoperability issues did create lot of problems that prompted someone to think up NP.  

 

eyes open & thumbs up,

 

Ed

 

PS: For those who do not know what RP and NP are, please look to edsalert archive on these as they have been explained in depth with several posts.  Other links like DeafNews, NAD, TDI, FCC, and others have explained these as well.

 


Neutral and Reference Platforms Clarification

8 05 2014

Folks,

After getting feedback from FaceBook and emails, etc.   I’ve decided to try again to explain the concept of Neutral Platform (NP) and Reference Platform (RP).  

Let’s focus on ACD first as this term ACD is the key in understanding what NP is.  ACD means Auto Call Distributor.  ACD is the brain/heart of all Call Centers.  Without ACD, VRS cannot be provided.  

So Neutral Platform is an ACD.  Referral Platform is not an ACD.  I think confusion came from the fact both use the term “platform”. 

RP is just a required software specification that requires providers to use to ensure interoperability among the providers. Once video conference software is adopted by the FCC, all existing VRS providers MUST ensure that their proprietary video conference products are interoperable with the required video conference software to ensure interoperability. By the way, government-run NP is required to use the required standard video conference software from RP.

RP is the benchmark test for interoperability.   Pass the RP test, then can provide VRS.  Fail the test, can’t provide VRS.

RP guarantees interoperability.     

More on NP: FCC released Request For Proposal (RFP) that made a list of features to create a Neutral Platform which is an ACD.  Features include: Video Mail; Call Forward; Verification of required procedures such as: address, name, etc; Speed Answer, Security Check, any other desired telecommunication features, etc.

Existing VRS providers ALREADY have ACD as that was a required item to be certified as VRS Providers.  Existing VRS providers already have the features of which current VRS users utilize and enjoy.

The difference between NP and ACD from VRS providers is this:   NP is a government-run ACD whereas ACDs from VRS providers are privately-run.  This is a very important point.  

Stand Alone CA providers can only use NP (ACD); FCC rules will not allow Stand Alone CA providers to have its own proprietary ACD. Existing VRS Providers have two choices: they can use their own proprietary ACD (at their own expense), or change over to government-run NP and give up their proprietary ACD (in other words, become interpreting service provider). 

 

Items:

Neutral Platform

Reference Platform

See # For Further Explanation

Development of Video Conference Software

No

Yes

#1

Creation of ACD

Yes, but restricted to RFP specs

No

#2

#1 Video Conference Software:  Only RP develops video conference software that is “standard” and will be required for all providers to use.  #2 ACD (Auto Call Distributor): NP is an ACD.  Stand Alone CA or VRS providers who chose NP route has to use ACD system from NP. 

Additional notes:

Existing VRS providers ALREADY have ACD (required by original VRS regulation to begin with) and they can choose to keep their own ACDs if they so choose.  

VRS providers who incorporate the required software (RP) into their products can use their own ACDs and can be creative and come up with new features not available by other providers (that’s competitive right there).  But only if the reimbursement rates include reasonable R & D expenses for VRS providers then the competitiveness will be lively.

Can NP providers get new features?  Yes, but remember that any new features added to NP will require complicated government procedures to approve the funds and the decision likely will be a political one. It is a foregone conclusion that federal government processing anything will be slower than snail to get anything approved especially if it entails additional costs.  In other words, once the first new features are approved for NP, then VRS users will see same old features for a long time before any new features become available.

Stand Alone CA providers and VRS providers who chose NP will only become interpreting service providers.  Nice new features offered by existing VRS providers will be GONE or replaced with NP features if they are forced to use NP because that may be the only way for existing VRS providers to make profit. 

The marketing strategy for NP providers likely will be based on “our interpreters are better than theirs” and that’s it.  Because of NP, all features are same by providers who use NP so no sense to advertise that their “features” are better than others.  All are the same for NP providers.

Remember FCC already reduced funds for R & D for new features/products costs on reimbursement rate for existing VRS providers.  That reduction of rate may be a way for FCC to force existing VRS providers to change over to use NP and abandon their own proprietary ACD and any future new features in order to stay afloat financially.  

Possible scenario for NP:  VRS will be run/controlled 100% by government if ALL existing VRS providers change over to NP because of forced economic reasons. VRS could ultimately become a government-run nationalized service. I don’t think we want that.

Again, the choice is clear.  With NP, VRS will go downhill on quality just like the text IP Relay did.  A little bit history here: IP Relay had 4 or 5 providers. FCC started reducing the reimbursement rates, and now there are only 2 IP Relay Providers.   Sprint recently submitted comments that if reimbursement rate continue to be reduced, Sprint will get out of the business as the company said can’t provide quality service with low reimbursement rate.      

Better solution: Remove NP, and keep RP, and ensure reimbursement rate is reasonable then the lively competition will continue and new products/features will keep coming up as fast as the VRS industry can create them.  

Any questions, please feel free to ask.  Feel free to comment as well.   If I made mistake, please point them out.  I will be happy to clarify or correct them. 

eyes open & thumbs up,      

Ed



VRS Stand Alone CA

16 04 2014

Stand Alone VRS CA

 

In the past posts, I focused on Neutral Platform; that is, NP is a government-developed platform that has all the “features” and is available for free for any VRS providers and any interpreting service that wants to turn their services into Stand Alone VRS CA. In this post, I want to focus on Stand Alone VRS CA.  What is “CA”?  That is Communication Assistant which in this case, same as interpreter in relay environment.  

 

Stand Alone VRS Ca basically means any interpreter service provider can apply to the FCC for certification as Stand Alone VRS CA provider.   The catch?  Have to use/download government-developed Neutral Platform and become “VRS provider”.   

 

For example, Texas has like 30 to 40  Interpreter Services so theoretically all of them can become Stand Alone VRS CA providers to say nothing of hundreds if not thousands of interpreter services providers nationwide that can apply.  

 

Can you imagine maybe 50 or more applications from Interpreter Services nationwide and that FCC has to review them?   Of course, those who applied will have to meet the FCC certification requirements, but it will not be the same strict rules as what certified VRS providers had to go through as VRS Stand Alone CA providers are not allowed to have their own video conference, and they just only have to download the one that government created. So that’s a freebie for interpreting service providers. Remember existing VRS providers spent million of dollars developing their own unique platforms which VRS users now enjoy.

 

Anyway this Stand Alone VRS CA is basically opening up same can of worms all over again and allowing Interpreter providers join in becoming VRS providers, but with much less stringent cost requirements: just download from NP at no cost.  

 

FCC just went through whittling down VRS providers from 52 down to 6 providers.  I generally support that as VRS providers need to meet highest possible standard VRS regulations.    However, with this allowance of Interpreter services tag on to NP will cause increased number of VRS providers. FCC will have lot more on its headache in monitoring all these and will less likely catch criminal actions (just like they missed a quite a few with the old 52 VRS providers).  Same thing will happen with Stand Alone VRS CA if there are too many of them. 

 

At any rate, it does make me wonder if FCC is discriminating against deaf/hh and allowing services run mostly by hearing persons become VRS providers.   These old 52 VRS providers, I believe, majority of them were either deaf-owned or deaf-run and they were cut off by the FCC. Most of interpreting services are run by hearing persons and the FCC will allow these to become “VRS providers”.   

 

FCC could have found ways to allow deaf-owned VRS providers to continue somehow perhaps by modifying regulation; FCC did not do that, but the FCC sure did for interpreting service providers. Perhaps the FCC is profiling to the extreme based on past bad experience?  hmmm  Based on the logic in this paragraph, it appears the FCC is discriminating against the deaf/hh.

 

Another issue: The FCC will not require certification of Interpreters simply because they knew it would raise reimbursement rates. I would be very interested how the FCC team will evaluate quality of interpreters without requiring certification? More likely the FCC will say “let the VRS Users decide which of the Stand Alone VRS CA offer high quality interpreters”.   Wow, if that being the case, deaf/hh will have a frustrating of time finding a good quality service provider if there are many of them out there; makes me wonder if the FCC really cares for VRS users anymore? They used to.  I guess nowadays cost is the bottom line for the bureaucratic and political FCC staff.  

 

Current VRS providers do have their own unique evaluation procedures for hiring interpreters simply because VRS is different than regular community interpreting. These Research & Development in understanding VRS interpreting environments costs hundred thousands of dollars. At any rate, without having R&D which requires lot of money and the FCC will not subsidize that, Stand Alone VRS CA providers may have some difficulty adjusting to that.      

 

It is very likely that the Stand Alone VRS CA providers will be paid at a much lower rate than VRS providers. Although FCC says that it will continue to support VRS providers so that deaf people can still use their products and services, but we know that over long run, hearing controlled economics will put pressure on phasing out VRS providers for cheaper Stand Alone VRS CA. How will FCC do that? By removing the outreach, R&D, marketing and the cost of interpreters (at decent salaries) expenses out of reimbursement rates, FCC is effectively forcing the current VRS providers to either get out or take on the standard Neutral Platform and provide inferior services.  

 

Bottom line is that NP, FCC’s restricting guidelines, and reducing reimbursements will force all VRS providers to become Interpreting agencies. Existing VRS providers may be forced to jump to NP, abandon their platforms, and just become interpreting services and lose all the wonderful features existing VRS providers now offer.   Switching to NP platform will offer inferior services. 

 

This is not idle threat.  Possible of that happening is real.

 

Once again, the FCC failed to understand tremendous economic benefits from high quality VRS providers.  

 

 Is that the path towards Functional Equivalence? I think NOT..hmm.. I take it back I know NOT

 

eyes open & thumbs up,

 

Ed