The Issue

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the regulation of Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), an assistive technology that enables people with hearing loss to use their residual hearing and speak during a call, and then read the other party’s responses via captions on a home telephone device or app. IP CTS is commonly referred to as captioned telephone service.

Certain voices and noises create difficulty for Artificial Intelligence (AI), including Automated Speech Recognition (ASR). This video compares real-time human captioning with ASR captions.

Image of IT CTS phone with large text showing, "this is metro taxi service calling to confirm we will be there at 3:00 to pick you up yes we can ring the doorbell when we arrive."

How can you help preserve access to this essential service?

If you’ve ever used Alexa or Siri, then you’re familiar with automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology. You’ve likely also noticed that ASR can make mistakes when processing human voices—especially ones of higher or lower pitches, or with accents or speech disabilities.

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has conditionally certified vendors that provide solely automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology for Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), they have not yet implemented the necessary rigorous quality standards and metrics needed to ensure ASR accuracy. Putting these standards in place is crucial, because inaccuracies in captioning can pose significant risks for captioned telephone service users.

Suppose a user of ASR-only captioned telephone service calls their doctor to inquire about medication dosage. If the ASR technology incorrectly captions key information that the doctor shares, the patient might take an incorrect dose of their medicine, putting their health in danger.

Or, more simply, consider a conversation in which someone with hearing loss is using ASR-only captioned telephone service to catch up with a friend, but background noise on their friend’s end of the line causes the ASR technology to miss several words. That would make the conversation pretty difficult to follow.

On the other hand, the good news is that ASR technology is continuing to advance. However, to ensure that captioned telephone service is as reliable and accessible as possible, the Clear2Connect Coalition urges the FCC to enact certain policies that require specific testing processes, as well as putting quality metrics and standards in place to measure the accuracy of ASR-only captioned telephone service.

It’s important to note that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires people with hearing loss have access to communication technology that is “functionally equivalent” to that used by people without hearing loss. That means ASR-only captioned telephone service providers must be subject to standards that ensure people with hearing loss who use the service have full access to accurate conversations.