FCC Takes on Phone|Relay Service Fraud

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Federal Communications Commission issued two regulations meant to tackle misuse of government-funded communication services used by the hearing and speech-impaired.
     Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) allows people who are deaf or unable to speak to communicate to others. The program is funded by the FCC.
     Communications services have faced a number of problems in recent years, and the FCC has taken action to make sure that the program is being used properly.
     In a 2006 notice of proposed rulemaking, the FCC noted it received numerous complaints that its text-based relay service “is being misused by persons without a hearing or speech disability to defraud merchants by making purchases over the telephone using stolen, fake, or otherwise invalid credit cards, and to make harassing calls.”
     More recently, a company that provided video relay services paid nearly $1.4 million to the FCC last year to settle claims that it improperly billed the commission for calls made by the company’s employees.
     The FCC published a final rule Tuesday clarifying the conditions for relay service providers’ compensation.
     Any relay service to a user who is not “deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who [does not have] a speech disability” cannot be reimbursed, the FCC wrote.
     The FCC amended a rule to clarify that its relay service administrator does not have to reimburse a service provider until the provider can show the money is compensable.
     The FCC also issued a proposed rule seeking comment about its current regulations related to compensation for relay services.
     Recently, the FCC prohibited all financial incentives and rewards programs by providers to encourage third parties to use their internet-based captioned text services.
     The FCC seeks comments about whether it should permanently adopt emergency interim rule, and asked commenters to weigh its costs and benefits.
     Some providers have given away free captioning equipment to users in recent months, the FCC said.
     “Just as the commission is concerned about the potential for certain marketing programs to incent improper use of [internet captioned text service], it is similarly concerned that the recent spike in [the service’s] usage may be the direct result of these equipment giveaway or loan programs,” the FCC wrote.
     The FCC said it was concerned that the “modern and attractive” devices may be used by people who do not actually need them.

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