FCC wins disability rate challenge

A federal appeals judge is siding with the Federal Communications Commission over a challenge to some of the ways that it pays companies for helping deaf people talk on the phone. 

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against Sorenson Communications on Tuesday over its service that allows people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities to call others via video, similar to popular services like Skype or Apple’s FaceTime. The deaf person communicates with an American Sign Language interpreter who speaks with the person on the other end of the line.

{mosads}Sorenson Communications and other providers of the service are paid through an FCC fund at a pre-established rate.

That rate is supposed to cover the cost of the video relay service, but has actually been helping to pad the profits of companies like Sorenson. As a result, the FCC has been trying to lower the rate, and most recently did so in 2013.

The communications company said the new rates were too low to keep funding services it operated under the old method, but Judge Douglas Ginsburg, writing on behalf of the court, tossed out that argument.

Ginsburg ruled that the FCC’s rules preventing companies from taking in more than their actual labor costs is “directly in accordance with its statutory mandate” and said that companies have the responsibility to stay within the budget.  

“It is not unreasonable for the Commission to allow a provider to go bankrupt if that provider has incurred costs far in excess of what is necessary,” he wrote.

In addition, the judge said that Sorenson was “merely attempting to relitigate” a similar case against the FCC that it lost over its 2010 reimbursement rates.

The case was not a total victory for the FCC, however. 

Ginsburg said that one type of service it demanded when it set new rates in 2013 could incur new costs that need to be covered. As a result, the judge tossed out that requirement. 

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