Video Transcript: Video Relay Service

The CRTC held a week long public hearing to determine whether Video Relay Service (VRS) for Canadians who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired should be offered. Today, the CRTC has issued its decision that VRS must be made available throughout Canada, starting as early as the fall of 2015.

During the public hearing, which involved the telecommunications industry, potential VRS users and representatives of the VRS industry, a number of participants suggested that rather than require telecommunications service providers to create and provide their own VRS service, to best serve Canadians, an independent administrative body should be set up to oversee the implementation of VRS.

The CRTC has decided in favour of this approach and is inviting comments on the administrative body’s structure and mandate.  This public consultation, which was launched by a Telecom Notice of Consultation, will lead to the creation of a VRS administrator with a Board of Directors that draws its members from all VRS stakeholders, including both American Sign Language (ASL) users, Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) users, telecommunications service providers and others. For more information or to participate, please visit the CRTC website (www.crtc.gc.ca).

VRS must be available for users of both ASL and LSQ and it will be funded by the National Contribution Fund. The fund was created in 2001 to subsidize local telephone service in areas where the cost of providing this service is higher. A maximum of $30 million from the fund will be allocated annually to support VRS once it is in operation.

The administrator will have the authority to make important decisions about how VRS is implemented within the requirements established by the CRTC.

The administrator is required, among other things, to:

For a more detailed description of the roles and responsibilities of the administrator, please see the decision, available on the CRTC’s website at www.crtc.gc.ca.

The CRTC will ensure that both LSQ and ASL services launch on the same day, and that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the quality and availability of the service in both languages is comparable.

Once VRS launches, telephone numbers will be issued to Canadians who require this service due to a hearing or speech disability. All telephone users will be able to contact VRS subscribers simply by calling their telephone number. In order to receive a telephone number, VRS users will need to sign a user agreement that certifies they have a hearing or speech disability, and that outlines privacy and confidentiality policies, fair usage policies and information on 9-1-1 access. A user agreement is required so that the roles and responsibilities of the user and the provider are understood.

Access to basic VRS will be offered at no additional charge. Those who sign up for this service will need to obtain and pay for their own high-speed Internet service and an Internet-connected device needed for VRS, such as a computer, smartphone, tablet or videophone. The CRTC has decided that no special VRS basic Internet packages will be mandated.

VRS may not initially be offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The CRTC has directed the administrator to prioritize high-traffic times and to aim to provide at least 72 hours of VRS per week, with some service being provided every day of the week by the end of the first year of operations. Individuals will only be able to call 9-1-1 through VRS during these hours of operation.

VRS users will be required to pay for any additional services, such as call waiting, call display, video mail and long-distance calls. Where available, these services are to be offered to a registered VRS user at rates similar to those of corresponding voice telephone services. Long-distance services are to be charged based on conversation minutes.

To ensure that the system continues to meet the needs of all Canadians, the CRTC will review the VRS system at the end of three years following its implementation.  By making the provision of VRS mandatory, the CRTC has taken an important step towards improving access to the telecommunications system for all Canadians, including those with hearing or speech disabilities.

We hope that this information has been helpful. It is intended to summarize the key elements of the decision and to serve as a quick reference for consumers. For more information, please consult the decision, which is the authoritative document setting out the CRTC’s determinations about VRS.

If you’d like more information about VRS, including a list of frequently asked questions and details about how you can participate in the next consultation, please visit the CRTC online at www.crtc.gc.ca

Frequently Asked Questions about VRS

What is VRS?

Video Relay Services (VRS) is a basic telecommunications service that enables people with hearing or speech disabilities who use sign language and voice telephone users to communicate with each other. The sign language user connects to a VRS operator using Internet-based videoconferencing. The operator then places a voice telephone call to the other party and relays the conversation from sign language to voice and vice-versa.

How is VRS different from TTY relay or IP relay?

Teletypewriter (TTY) relay and Internet-Protocol (IP) relay are both text-based relay services. The relay user connects to the relay centre using a text-based device, and an operator places a voice telephone call to the other party. The relay user types their side of the conversation and the operator reads the message to the other party and relays the conversation from text to voice and vice-versa. VRS, on the other hand, permits the use of sign language instead of text, so that it meets the needs of Canadians who use sign language.

Is VRS an interpretation service?

No, VRS is the same as making a phone call and is not a replacement for a live interpreter. For example, two individuals who are in the same room should not place a VRS call for the purpose of having an interpreter interpret their in-person conversation.

What will VRS cost?

Persons who are Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired who communicate in either ASL or LSQ will be able to sign up for VRS and use it without having to subscribe to local telephone service.

They will, however, need to pay for their own high speed Internet connection. A standard high speed Internet package from any Internet service provider will work with VRS. Users will also need to pay for their own Internet-connected device such as a computer, smartphone, tablet or videophone. Additional options such as call waiting, call display, video mail and long distance will be charged to the registered VRS user at rates comparable to those for similar voice-based services.

When will VRS be available?

It is expected that VRS services may commence as early as the fall of 2015. The CRTC is taking immediate steps to establish a VRS administrator who will be responsible for the implementation of VRS. A public consultation, launched by a Telecom Notice of Consultation, was initiated at the same time as the CRTC announced its decision on VRS with the goal of introducing VRS to Canada as soon as possible. For more information or to participate, please visit the CRTC website (www.crtc.gc.ca).

Why will it take so long to get VRS?

The implementation of VRS requires a number of steps that will take some time:

  1. A VRS administrator needs to be established through a public consultation, which was launched by a Telecom Notice of Consultation
  2. The administrator’s Board of Directors needs to be established and staff need to be hired
  3. The administrator needs to determine how VRS will be provided within the parameters set by the CRTC and run a process to select a provider (or providers). The administrator will also need to develop:
    • privacy and confidentiality guidelines,
    • an education and outreach campaign to make Canadians aware of when VRS will be available and how it works,
    • A system for monitoring VRS, including tracking the responding to complaints, and
    • A system for tracking data and reporting to the CRTC
  4. The administrator and any provider (or providers) will then need to set up the infrastructure to provide VRS.

The CRTC understands the importance of making VRS available quickly in Canada. This is why the CRTC initiated today a public consultation, launched by a Telecom Notice of Consultation, to consider the structure and mandate of the VRS administrator so that the work needed to get VRS running starts immediately. After this CRTC public consultation is complete, it will be up to the VRS administrator to set up VRS in a speedy manner. For more information or to participate in the follow-up process, please visit the CRTC website (www.crtc.gc.ca).

How can I receive updates on the status of VRS?

The public can follow the public consultation, which was launched by a Telecom Notice of Consultation, to establish the structure and mandate of the VRS administrator on the Commission’s website www.crtc.gc.ca. Following this process, the Commission will provide updates on the status of VRS when appropriate.

How will I know when VRS is available?

The VRS administrator will prepare an education and outreach campaign. Once the service is ready to begin operations, the VRS administrator will provide more information, through various channels, to ensure that the public is aware of the date VRS will be operational. Additional information will also be provided at that time on how individuals can sign up for VRS and what will be required to access this service. The CRTC will also publish updates on its website www.crtc.gc.ca as they become available.

Will VRS be available in all parts of Canada?

VRS will be offered nationally in American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ). High-speed Internet access is required to use VRS.

Will VRS be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?

The hours of operation will be determined by the VRS administrator. It is likely that VRS will not be offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week initially. At the CRTC’s public hearing, it was made clear by witnesses that there is a shortage of interpreters, particularly highly qualified interpreters. The CRTC has directed the administrator to prioritize high-traffic times and to aim to provide service for at least 72 hours of VRS per week, with some service every day of the week by the end of the first year of operations.

Will I have a set number of minutes of VRS use per month?

No, VRS users will be able to use the service as often and as long as they like.

Can I call 9-1-1 using VRS?

Yes, a VRS user will be able to call 9-1-1 through the relay service during the hours of operation of the service. Emergency calls will be placed first in line for a VRS interpreter. The VRS interpreter will then connect the call to 9-1-1 responders and relay the emergency call.

What happens if I need to call 9-1-1 and VRS is not available?

During the periods where VRS is unavailable, users will need to use the existing alternative means of calling 9-1-1, for example, via TTY, IP relay, or text message where it is available and users have pre-registered.

To learn more about communicating with 9-1-1 call centres via text message, please see http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/info_sht/b324.htm.

Do I need to subscribe to home phone service or a wireless service to get VRS?

No. All that is required for VRS is high speed Internet access and an Internet-connected device capable of supporting video conferencing, such as a computer, smartphone, tablet or videophone. VRS users will be required to sign up for VRS and sign a user agreement.

A user agreement is a contract that will explain the rights and responsibilities of users and the VRS provider(s). This includes privacy and confidentiality provisions, fair usage policy, what to do if users have a complaint, how 9-1-1 services work, and how users can report a change in address. If a user chooses to subscribe to additional services, such as call display or video mail, the user agreement will also outline the billing agreement.

A user agreement is required so that the roles and responsibilities of the user and the provider are understood. It will serve to protect the user’s interests as well as those of the provider.

What equipment will I need for VRS?

VRS is an Internet-based service. Therefore, a VRS user will need to have a high-speed Internet connection to make or receive VRS calls. An Internet-connected device capable of supporting video conferencing, such as a computer, smartphone, tablet or videophone will also be needed. The exact type of device will be determined by any future provider.

Can anyone call a VRS customer?

Yes, when VRS is implemented, all telephone users will be able to contact VRS subscribers simply by calling their telephone, just as with any other phone call. The call will automatically be connected and relayed through the VRS call center.

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