On October 2, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] released a 62-page document on September 30, 2020 that covered the adoption of Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service Rates through June 30, 2022. This document also covers the TRS COVID-19 Pandemic waiver that had originally been slanted to expire on November 30, 2020.
On page 54, under the section entitled “Extension of COVID-19 Related TRS Waiver,” the FCC set a motion to extend the waiver through February 28, 2021. This is a temporary waiver that allows certain TRS rules to be overridden.
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, on our own motion, we extend through February 28, 2021, the temporary waivers of certain rules governing TRS. As a result of the pandemic and states’ responsive emergency regulations, TRS traffic levels have increased, and providers’ ability to staff call centers has been sharply reduced, severely challenging providers’ ability to answer and process TRS calls.FCC-20-132A1
This waiver grants greater flexibility to “provide services during this difficult period,” allowing VRS providers to address the increasing need for “reliance on communication assistants working at home.” To be clear, the FCC established these standards just so VRS providers could meet the callers’ needs via a larger percentage of interpreters working from home.
The FCC extended the waiver because of varying businesses and other facilities still requiring additional time to reopen: “TRS providers continue to experience challenges and uncertainty regarding COVID-19 related changes in demand for relay services.” Those challenges are not only limited to providing enough support for interpreters to accept calls; there are also hiring, training, and ensuring safe working conditions for TRS employees. In this same order, the FCC also clearly stated that they will re-visit and possibly extend the waiver period if necessary.
On March 17, 2020, Deaf Vee Journal reported that VRS providers initially were limited to 30 percent of their services from their “At Home” program and this cap has been temporarily removed. It is speculated that because of the poor preparation by Convo Relay and other VRS providers who had not previously participated in the “At Home Program,” there has been some scrambling to make this work and consequently, many of their interpreters have been required to purchase equipment on their own (as reported in an article submitted anonymously on Deaf Vee Journal dated October 29, 2020).
In a January 29, 2020 article by Deaf Vee Journal, Convo Relay stated that they had not decided on whether the At-Home Program was a good fit for their business. This attitude has allegedly continued to hold true in some of the comments that supervisors have shared with staff members stating that “it is bad for their image” if they continue to allow a large percentage of interpreters to work from home, which is why many of the interpreters have been told to return to the call centers for work.
Convo Relay has been in touch with Deaf Vee Journal but a meeting has not been arranged yet; however, our team hopes to have some updates from them soon.