First of all, relay services are a big deal from a money perspective. 200 million minutes were used last year. The rate for these services, paid from state and federal funds can be as much as $12 per minute (for video relay services). In our last round of meetings with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff and the commissioners, we demonstrated IP Captioned Telephone using a normal cell phone and a laptop with a broadband connection (more people in the US have broadband than do not have it).
Here’s how it works…
You go to a website, type in your number and the number you are calling to. The operator calls you, then connects you to the person you are calling. Captions of what the other person is saying start appearing on the website with about a three or four second delay. (There is another way to connect that requires a $15 phone splitter from Radio Shack. I have not seen that demonstrated yet.) The operator is using voice recognition software especially trained to your voice. The operator re-voices what the other person is saying. A captioned telephone operator is required to have twice the speed of current relay service transcribers. Thus, while not quite real-time, it is close.
We love this new service for several reasons. First, it is transparent, there is nothing required of the person you are calling, and they do not even know you are using anything to assist you on the call. Think about the workplace and how different this is to making a regular relay call. Secondly, it requires no specialized equipment. It is a seamless solution. Five months ago IP Captioned Telephone seemed dead in the water. We kept meeting, kept talking, kept working on it. To have it pass like this before the end of the year is remarkable. If we try to assign a dollar value, it is very easy to see this service being worth $50 million per year once it gets up and running. Even in Washington, DC, $50 million is still a lot of services, and will benefit thousands of people across the country. That is why it is such a big deal!