This week, the Clear2Connect Coalition submitted a filing and accompanying white paper to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to address the Commission’s ongoing efforts to modernize the IP CTS program, by adopting changes that could harm and jeopardize the livelihoods of users who rely on this service. In our filing, the Coalition urged the Commission to conduct additional testing and to adopt service quality metrics and standards before authorizing any provider to receive compensation for exclusively automated speech recognition (ASR) service. While Clear2Connect Coalition members agree that the future of the IP CTS program may well include ASR-only services, and looks forward to the time when those services provide functional equivalence to consumers, they are not ready yet.
The next day, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing entitled, “Accountability and Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.” The hearing featured testimony from all five of the agency’s Commissioners, including Chairman Ajit Pai who answered questions from Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12) on his concerns about the impact allowing fully automated speech recognition would have on individuals who rely on the IP CTS program:
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12): “Chairman Pai, many of our veterans, retirees, and other Americans with hearing loss, I am one of them, rely on the IP CTS service that you administer. Currently, you are considering allowing fully automated speech recognition to replace humans in ensuring accuracy of the service. I am concerned that such action could result in inferior service, as the testing already done does not replicate real-world conditions. Again Mr. Chairman, would you commit to additional study and testing before you certify any ASR-only provider or service?”
Chairman Pai: “I appreciate your concern Congressman, and that is why in our proposal we make clear that before we grant any certification to an IP CTS provider, that provider has to ensure that any ASR technology they use, meets the mandatory minimum standards for service that those with disabilities who rely on that service would require. That is built in to ensure that the service is top notch.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12): “That is all very important. And again, if it’s not right, then it is just not going to work – it’s not suitable. And we have to have somebody with hearing loss actually test it to make sure that it is actually performing well. So, I appreciate you doing that and if you could follow up with us to make sure that happens, I would appreciate it.”
Chairman Pai: “I would be happy to.”
We look forward to highlighting how Coalition members’ efforts continue to drive the conversation forward on the importance of the FCC taking the sensible approach of subjecting ASR to more robust testing and developing new metrics and standards that all IP CTS providers, including ASR-exclusive providers, must meet to provide service.