Thursday, 03 October 2019 13:58

Government legal action over National Relay Service transition Featured

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Government legal action over National Relay Service transition Image Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Federal Government is taking legal action to compel the outgoing provider of the National Relay Service (NRS), Australian Communications Exchange (ACE), to support CapTel captioned telephone handset users to transition to alternate services.

The Government announced on Thursday it had registered a formal legal instrument to give it additional powers to compel ACE to support the transition of the NRS – which delivers accessible telecommunications for the deaf or speech impaired – while and expressing “disappointment” that despite repeated requests from Government, ACE has not provided details of CapTel users to it.

The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) (National Relay Service Rules) Determination 2019 requires ACE to provide information to the Department of Communications and the Arts on request to help transition CapTel users to the new NRS provider – Concentrix - including information about current CapTel users.

“It is surprising and disappointing that it is necessary to take this step” the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher said.

“I would have expected greater cooperation from ACE in either providing the information or seeking it from other parties, to allow the Government to give comprehensive information to CapTel users about the wide range of service options they will have under the NRS as we transition from ACE to a new provider.”

The contract with ACE was originally negotiated by the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA), established by then Labor Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in 2013.

But Minister Fletcher, in a statement issued on Thursday, said TUSMA failed to include a contractual provision giving the responsible Minister, or the Commonwealth, critical information detailing the location of CapTel handsets and contact details for current CapTel users.

Concentrix was chosen as the new provider following a competitive selection process in which ACE also participated.

“The Morrison Government is committed to maintaining a world-class relay service that meets the needs of key user groups amongst the hearing and speech impaired communities – those who speak, those who text and those who communicate through Auslan” Minister Fletcher said.

The Determination also provides that the Commonwealth may request ACE to communicate to CapTel users about the handset being discontinued as part of the NRS from 1 February 2020 and to recommend they contact the NRS Helpdesk to explore alternatives to meet their individual needs.

Minister Fletcher said the Government encourages all NRS users to contact the NRS Helpdesk with any queries about the coming transition to the new provider.

As reported by iTWire in June, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) welcomed the Federal Government’s appointment of a service provider for the National Relay Service which delivers accessible telecommunications for the deaf or speech impaired.

ACCAN said the NRS was a vital service that allows its users to communicate for work, socially, and in emergencies.

“All Australians deserve the right to reliable communications whether they access it through traditional telco technology or through the NRS,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin.

“ACCAN is pleased that the NRS will maintain existing call relay options when the new provider, Concentrix, begins delivering the service in October. This means that many users who rely upon the essential communications service will be unaffected by the new arrangement. However, ACCAN notes that users of the handset-based Captioned Relay service will need support to transition to a new technology option.

“While we know that many NRS users are now using messaging and video calls, some people do still prefer the familiarity of a phone handset when accessing the NRS. It’s important that these users have the help they need to transition to an appropriate alternative before the NRS stops supporting these devices in February 2020,” Corbin said.

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Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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