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What is meant by the term "functionally equivalent" as defined by the FCC? (NEW)

The term “functionally equivalent” is one of the most important definitions in the FCC rules that govern the relay services (both TRS – Telecommunications Relay Services and VRS-Video Relay Services.)

The definition means that whatever services hearing person gets by using their phones, deaf and hard-of-hearing persons should get the same services. The word “same services” also means “functionally equivalent” when we talk to lawyers (they like big words, while we usually don’t.)

Below is the copy of the FCC rules (don’t worry about trying to figure it out what it is trying to say, Dr. Z will explain it as best as he can below):

Under FCC TRS Rules 47 C.F.R. § 64.601, paragraph 15 has the following definition that forms the basis for “functionally equivalent” services:

“Telecommunications relay services (TRS). Telephone transmission services that provide the ability for an individual who has a hearing or speech disability to engage in communication by wire or radio with a hearing individual in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of an individual who does not have a hearing or speech disability to communicate using voice communication services by wire or radio…”

This means, what a hearing person has, we as deaf and hard-of-hearing people are entitled to the same thing. Like, picking up the phone, a hearing person gets dial tone. For us, when we “pick up the phone” by dialing, we get an agent. A hearing person does not have to wait for dial tone. We should not wait too long for a dial tone. The FCC has rules saying that 20 seconds should be the maximum wait time for a call to be answered by the agent.

The rules also say that the equipment should be maintained to be sure it is working most of the time, with back-up equipment available and provided by the relay company, like a phone company does it for the hearing community.

This is the result of implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title 4 of the ADA states,  in part, for the FCC to do the following:

“- require that telecommunications relay services operate every day for 24 hours per day;

– require that users of telecommunications relay services pay rates no greater than the rates paid for functionally equivalent voice communication services with respect to such factors as the duration of the call, the time of day, and the distance from point of origination to point of termination;

– prohibit relay operators from failing to fulfill the obligations of common carriers by refusing calls or limiting the length of calls that use telecommunications relay services;

– prohibit relay operators from disclosing the content of any relayed conversation and from keeping records of the content of any such conversation beyond the duration of the call; and

– prohibit relay operators from intentionally altering a relayed conversation. ”

In sum, the ADA made TRS and VRS legal and we stand to benefit from the service.

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