Chapter Eleven continued...
The FCC has concluded that the access barriers that are created when IVR and voice mail services are inaccessible make it very difficult for people with disabilities to reach their parties or obtain the information they need by telephone. The FCC has determined that coverage of these services is necessary to fulfill the true intent of Section 255.
Long Distance Rate Reduction
The charge for a long distance call is usually based on the number of minutes the telephone line is used, the distance between the callers, the day of the week, and the time of day the call is placed. Because TTY calls take much longer than voice calls to communicate the same message, long distance TTY calls and relayed cues are very expensive. Basic TTYs can transmit at a maximum speed of sixty words per minute. By contrast, the estimated average speaking rate for English is 165 words per minute. Thus, a typical TTY user may pay $6.50 to have the same long-distance telephone conversation that a hearing person could have for only $2.50.
AT&T, Sprint, and MCI all offer some type of rate reduction for TTY or relay users. Additionally, some states have laws or regulations directing the telephone companies of those states to offer TTY rate reductions. Some of these states require deaf customers to submit a statement from a doctor, audiologist, or public agency certifying that they have a hearing disability. Other states merely ask TTY users to apply for the reduced rate. In some states a reduction applies to the customer's entire household; in other states the discount is only applied to calls made with a TTY.
Most consumer advocates believe telephone charges should be based on the value of the service to the customer, rather than on the cost to the telephone company of providing the service. For example, if homes in rural or mountainous areas were charged the actual cost to the telephone company of running telephone lines and installing equipment, their rates would be very high. Yet all residential telephone customers, urban and rural, are charged the same fee for basic telephone service. This is done because the value of that service is the same for everyone and because the telephone system is more useful for everyone if it reaches as many people as possible. The cost of providing service to all households is averaged, and the cost is spread among all customers. Similarly, reduced rates for TTY calls help to ensure that deaf people have access to the telephone system on the same basis as other telephone users.