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May 18, 2007

VRS Providers Complain to FCC About Reimbursement Rates

Providers of relay services for people with disabilities complained to the FCC that reimbursement rates NECA proposes are complex and probably illegal (CD May 4 p8). In comments filed Wed., they questioned why fund administrator NECA offered the FCC a choice of payment methods rather than recommending one. NECA's filing " provides... additional evidence that the framework for establishing the compensation rates to be paid to relay providers is dysfunctional," Sprint Nextel said. Implementing NECA's plan would be unlawful because the FCC hasn't adopted a rulemaking to change the current rate methodology, Sprint said. Rates must be based on current rules " and not how that methodology may be changed sometime in the future when the Commission decides the issues" in a pending further NPRM, Sprint said. For example, Sprint said, the Commission can't adopt any pro- posed rate methods that exclude marketing and outreach expense. Treatment of those costs is under consideration in the FNPRM, but " until that issue is decided, the only rate that can be lawfully adopted is one that includes both of these expense categories," Sprint said. Neither is NECA justified in proposing to base rates on historic costs, because " the Commission has not sanctioned this method for setting future rates," Sprint said. The bottom line, it said: " The only rates that the Commission can lawfully adopt for the upcoming 2007-2008 fund year are those based on the providers' projected costs and demand submissions" -- the current method. Sorenson Communications said NECA proposed 24 possible reimbursement rates for video relay service (VRS) but only one, based on providers' projections, is " lawful, reasonable and consistent with meeting the statutorymandate to expand access to VRS." Sorenson, a provider of VRS equipment, said provider projections remain the best methodology: " When Sorenson prepares its annual NECA projections, it adheres to the guidelines established by NECA and submits estimates only for those costs that are reimbursable under existing precedent." NECA's idea of excluding marketing and outreach costs makes no sense, because it's critical to provide VRS service to more people who can't hear: " Only about ten percent of Deaf Americans have VRS. This woefully low level of penetration is inconsistent with national policy goals." VRS providers also complain that some of NECA's alternative rates would be too low to allow investment in improving VRS and keeping enough interpreters.

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