The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with two Internet telecommunications relay service (“TRS”) providers, one in California and one in Florida, to resolve an investigation into the providers’ failure to properly verify customers, submission of improper bills for reimbursement, and other violations.
The TRS Fund reimburses telephone providers that provide services to consumers with hearing and speech disabilities. Internet-based TRS (“iTRS”) allows such consumers to communicate with hearing persons via the Internet. There are currently three forms of iTRS: (1) Video Relay Service (“VRS”); Internet Protocol Relay Service; and (3) Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service.
Section 64.615(a)(5) of the FCC’s Rules requires that for some forms of TRS providers must verify the registration information of each TRS user before providing service. Section 64.604(c)(5)(iii)(D)(1) requires that TRS providers submit “true and accurate data” to the TRS Fund Administrator.
In December 2015, the FCC adopted a Forfeiture Order, affirming an $11.9 million fine against the California provider for failing to implement a reasonable verification process and improperly billing the TRS Fund for calls associated with unverified users. Later that month, the FCC issued Letters of Inquiry to both companies regarding their compliance with iTRS numbering obligations and VRS requirements.
In February 2017, the parent company of the Florida provider acquired the California provider. Immediately following the acquisition, the FCC released a Consent Decree terminating its investigations into the two providers. As part of the Consent Decree, the General Counsel of the parent company will serve as a Compliance Officer for both providers and oversee regulatory compliance efforts, including the implementation of a five-year compliance plan.
Under the compliance plan, the providers must, among other things, develop and implement measures to ensure the accuracy of call data submitted to the TRS Fund Administrator, measures to ensure customer records are accurate, and a compliance training program. The companies must also file compliance reports with the FCC every year for the next five years. Lastly, in addition to reimbursing the TRS Fund a total of $6,116,579, the companies must pay a civil penalty of $3 million to the U.S. Treasury.