Senate Passes Update to Telephone Fee to Assist Impaired Users
JUNEAU – Today, the Alaska State Senate unanimously passed a bill that improves access to telecommunications services for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired Alaskans.
Under current law, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) provides telecommunication relay services (TRS) for Alaska’s deaf, hard of hearing, and speech disabled communities. Those services are paid for through a surcharge that only applies to landline telephones. Senate Bill 80 allows the RCA to expand the surcharge base to include mobile phone services.
“SB 80 modernizes and enhances services provided to Alaskans with disabilities and allows for greater independence and an improved quality of life,” said Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), the bill’s sponsor. “This bill allows the RCA to more equitably apply the surcharge to a growing number of cell phone and Internet-based technologies, for the benefit of deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired Alaskans.”
The surcharge for mobile phone services is estimated to be four to five cents per month, or approximately 60 cents per year.
In the early 1990s, the Alaska Legislature granted the RCA the authority to require telephone utilities to serve the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired citizens of Alaska. These policies allowed telephonic communication between impacted Alaskans and those without impairment. This is accomplished through a TRS that provides interpretive service operators to relay tele-typed, voice, or signed messages from one party to another. The provider also runs an equipment distribution and outreach program allowing access to public telephone service for this subscriber group.
RCA regulations provide for cost recovery through a surcharge which is currently only applied to the dwindling number of landline telephones. With a statewide move toward wireless phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, the most efficient and effective service to this subscriber group is lacking resources from the diminished wirelines to which a surcharge applies.
SB 80 is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.