Ofcom today took a significant step towards improving telephone calls for disabled consumers by proposing to approve BT's enhanced text relay service.
Text relay is a vital service as it enables people with hearing and/or speech impairments to communicate with others via the telephone. A relay assistant acts as an intermediary to convert speech to text and vice versa for the two people in conversation.
Ofcom last year said that a 'next generation' text relay service must be made available to all landline and mobile customers by 18 April 2014.
Ofcom mandated a series of improvements that providers must deliver by this date. The improvements will enable users to have faster, more fluent conversations as they can interject; and use a variety of devices to access the service - including easier use of text relay on the move via smartphones and tablets.
BT is the first provider to develop and seek approval for its next generation text relay service. Having assessed BT’s planned service against a series of performance criteria, Ofcom proposes to give its approval, subject to today’s consultation.
If, following consultation, approval is granted, Ofcom understands that BT intends to provide wholesale access to its next generation text relay service for other communication providers.
BT's service would be subject to ongoing monitoring to ensure it continued to comply with Ofcom standards.
Approval criteria for next generation text relay
Ofcom requires that all next generation text relay services must go through a rigorous approval process.
Ofcom has set out detailed criteria and performance targets that all text relay services must meet, and maintain, in order to gain approval. These include minimum requirements to:
Ofcom is inviting comments on its proposal to approve BT’s application by 10 January 2014. A decision will be published ahead of the 18 April 2014 deadline when next generation text relay services must be made available to consumers.
Ofcom has commissioned benchmarking research to compare the current and new relay services and will continue to monitor the development of speech recognition technology.
Ofcom is also helping disability groups (led by the Deaf Access to Communications campaign, which is part of the UK Council on Deafness) that are working to encourage the provision of video relay services by communications providers, businesses and other organisations on a voluntary basis.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom Consumer Group Director, said: "Today's announcement represents another key milestone in our work to deliver an improved telephone experience for hearing and speech impaired consumers.
"As technology moves on, Ofcom is committed to ensuring disabled users can access reliable, up-to-date text relay services which help them communicate more easily."
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