[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bRVRvx9huU]

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has several offices that focus on different aspects of the communications division of the Government.

“The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.” (FCC)

Greg Hlibok, the Chief of the Disability Rights office within the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau which oversees changes that may impact our community, had appeared on iDeafNews during an open discussion about Neutral Platform.

Many people question what is neutral platform and why it was even suggested in the first place by FCC. The truth is, FCC did not come up with the idea, CSDVRS did. Back in 2012, CSDVRS had suggested to FCC that they set up a “generic” platform and require all VRS providers to plug in. This is something that FCC had asked the community about and eventually decided was not a feasible plan. They didn’t want to shoot down the idea especially since there have been some serious issues with interoperability.

FCC at this point has decided that they will do both a reference platform and a neutral platform. For those that don’t understand the difference between the two, reference platform is designed to ensure interoperability for VRS calls and point to point video calls. The reference platform is similar to “android” platform because it will be open source allowing developers to develop “apps.” However, Neutral Platform is often misunderstood because people don’t understand what it is and how FCC intends on using it.

Focusing on neutral platform, it is a shared platform that will bring in independent developers to test their new products designed for consumer’s use and, entities wishing to offer high quality video interpreting service. The point of the neutral platform is to allow more “players” to come into the game especially if they don’t want to spend millions of dollars building their own platform. When new players come into the game, they can focus 100% on the interpreting aspect and not worry about technology or customer support. Testing a product on Neutral Platform is necessary to ensure that the tested product works with the other VRS products.

With that in mind, they can focus on quality of interpreters rather than trying to do a balancing act between technology development and quality of interpreters. When consumers have an issue with the product, they would be able to go talk to the developers and regulators of the neutral platform. This is very similar to the set up of the internet system we have. There are a few main providers for internet lines. These internet lines are the backbone of the industry and are considered “neutral” platforms but allows other companies to plug in. There are some local internet providers where they don’t have the technology aspect but just the service aspect of the internet industry.

With that set up, it saves money in the long run for the internet industry. FCC is essentially doing the same thing with the VRS industry.

Now, this was mainly looked at because of interoperability issues between providers. The question that people may have is, if all providers had cooperated, maybe this wouldn’t be brought up.

Greg Hlibok had said, that the current VRS providers have not yet reached consensus on interoperability standards so FCC has had to get more involved in the development aspect of the industry. That, and there is one provider that has 80 percent of the market share. One of the ways to help reduce likelihood of market dominance happening is by bringing in more players within the industry for them to compete with their offerings.

Often it’s the “high risk” aspect that drives companies away from wanting to get involved. With the Neutral Platform, they are able to come in with less investment. FCC also needs a place to test products that are from VRS providers and other game changing companies.

There has been a big concern of innovation and loss of jobs for people that rely on the VRS industry for jobs. Greg Hlibok pointed out that while there is going to be a development of neutral platform, participation will be optional for VRS providers. They can stay on their platform or jump onto the neutral platform depending on their preference. Another thing is that developers will be given the opportunity to develop apps for the platform which can lead to more innovation by people within the community that use VRS. Also, often a new game changer brings in a new set of employment opportunity. This is part of the evolving nature of technology that affects the job opportunity landscape within the VRS industry and anywhere else.

FCC’s primary concern is making sure consumers are getting the high quality services they need to achieve a functionally equivalent relay service as required under Americans with Disabilities Act and adding more VRS providers into the game.will promote this goal.