In 2011, Ofcom started a review of the provision of text relay for telephone customers. This was in the context of significant technological developments and to ensure access to voice telephony for people with disabilities that is equivalent to the level enjoyed by others.
Following the review and various consultation, in October 2012, Ofcom published a statement promising long awaited improvements to text relay services within an 18 months deadline. At that stage BT confirmed its intention to develop a next generation text relay service (NGTR), and earlier this year that service was approved by Ofcom. UKCoD welcomed all of this as steps in the right direction.
We have worked with BT since then, on developing a model for video relay services, on some aspects of BT’s communication on NGTR and encouraging users to take part in both BT’s testing of NGTR and Ofcom’s user experience research.
Along with other stakeholders, we have received assurances from BT over the last 18 months that all was on track for a launch of the new service by the April 2014 deadline, despite concerns that not all features of the new service would be available from day 1 for all users.
On Wednesday 16th April, two days before the deadline on 18th April, UKCoD and other stakeholders were informed by BT that there would be a delay to NGTR. During volume testing they discovered a technical problem in the way the new service interacted with the emergency services that resulted in audio quality issues.
BT are now working closely with Ofcom and their suppliers to analyse the technical issues involved and identify solutions, but further delay to the launch is inevitable.
This is extremely disappointing and frustrating. Deaf people still not have access to the modern relay service they have been promised and are entitled to.
UKCoD’s Deaf Access to Communication group (DAC) is writing to Mr Patterson, Chief Executive of of BT demanding assurances about NGTR and when the issue will be resolved. We are seeking a meeting at a senior level. We are also meeting with Ofcom to understand the steps they are taking to ensure a service is delivered, and how the regulatory position we find ourselves in will be resolved.
Delaying launching a service that could not guarantee access to the emergency services was the right thing to do, and the current focus of the regulator and BT is to find a solution to the technical problems. But deaf people have waited too long for an improved relay experience and so it is important they are kept fully informed about when they can expect the sort of telephone services most take for granted.