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General Laws

Section 15E. (a) As used in this section, the following words shall, unless the context requires otherwise, have the following meanings:—

“Captioned telephone”, an amplified telecommunications device with a text display that permits the user to both listen to what is said over the telephone and simultaneously read captions of what the other person is saying, thereby allowing a hard of hearing person to utilize captioned telephone service.

“Captioned telephone service”, an enhanced voice carry over telecommunications relay service, a system which uses third party intervention to connect persons with a hearing disability but with some residual hearing, to engage in communication, by wire or radio, with a hearing individual in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of an individual, who does not have a hearing disability, to communicate using voice communication services, by wire or radio.

“Common carrier”, as common carrier is used in chapters 159 and 166, and referring to a business in the commonwealth that is a provider of local exchange service, so-called, to 1,000 or more subscribers. For the purposes of this section, the term shall also include a municipal lighting plant or cooperative that operates a telecommunications system under section 47E of chapter 164.

“Communication services”, includes: (a) the transmission, conveyance, or routing of real-time, two-way voice communications to a point or between or among points by or through any electronic, radio, satellite, cable, optical, microwave, wireline, wireless, or other medium or method, regardless of the protocol used; (b) the ability to provide two-way voice communication on the public switched network; (c) wireless enhanced 911 service; (d) wireline enhanced 911 service; (e) interconnected VoIP provider service, as defined by Federal Communication Commission regulations; (f) IP-enabled service, as defined in section 18A of chapter 6A; or (g) prepaid wireless service.

“Communication service provider”, an entity that provides communication services to a subscriber or end user.

“Deaf”, a severe to profound hearing loss resulting in the majority of circumstances, in an inability to effectively use a conventional telephone without the assistance of a test telephone or other nonvoice terminal device.

“Department”, the state 911 department.

“Disability”, a physical, cognitive, sensory or mental impairment that substantially limits 1 or more major activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning or working, and results in an inability to use a telephone without the assistance of specialized telephone equipment.

“FCC”, the Federal Communications Commission.

“Hard of hearing”, a hearing loss resulting, in the majority of circumstances, in an inability to effectively use a telephone without the assistance of a sound amplification control or a telephone without the use of a hearing aid and a hearing aid compatible handset.

“Hearing carry over” or “HCO”, a form of telecommunications relay service, or TRS, with which a person with a speech disability is able to listen to the other end user and, in reply, a third party speaks the text as typed by the person with the speech disability and the third party does not type any conversation. Two-line HCO is an HCO service that allows TRS users to use 1 telephone line for hearing and the other for sending text telephone, or TTY, messages. HCO-to-TTY allows a relay conversation to take place between an HCO user and a TTY user. HCO-to-HCO allows a relay conversation to take place between 2 HCO users.

“Public coin and coinless telephone”, a telephone operated by coin or credit card and located in high use areas that return substantial revenue from the operation thereof including, but not limited to, police stations, hospitals, airports, bus terminals, train stations, libraries, social security, medicaid and medicare offices and shopping centers.

“Semi-public coin and coinless telephone”, a telephone operated by coin or credit card and located in low use areas that return moderate revenue from the operation thereof including, but not limited to, convalescent homes, elderly housing complexes and small meeting houses.

“SCPE”, specialized, customer-premises equipment, such as artificial larynxes, signaling devices, amplified handset, hands-free telephones, text telephones, memory telephones, direct telephone dialing device, braille text telephones, captioned telephone, and other devices which provide access to telephone networks for people with a hearing, speech, vision, mobility or cognitive disability.

“SCPE distribution service”, a system of administration and record keeping, as well as distribution, repair and replacement of SCPE units for certified subscribers.

“Text telephone” or “TTY”, a machine that employs graphic communication in the transmission of coded signals through a wire or radio communication system. TTY supersedes the term “TDD” or “telecommunications device for the deaf”.

“Telecommunications relay service” or “TRS”, a telephone transmission service that provides an individual with a hearing or speech disability the ability to engage in communication by wire or radio with a hearing individual in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of an individual who does not have a hearing or speech disability to communicate using voice communication services by wire or radio. TRS includes services that enable two-way communication between an individual who uses a text telephone or other nonvoice terminal device and an individual who does not use such a device, speech-to-speech services, and non-English relay services. TRS supersedes the terms “dual party relay system,” “message relay services,” and “TDD relay.”

“Voice carry over service”, or “VCO”, a form of TRS with which a person with a hearing disability is able to speak directly to the other end user when a third party types the response back to the person with the hearing disability and the third party does not voice the conversation. Two-line VCO is a VCO service that allows TRS users to use 1 telephone line for voicing and the other for receiving TTY messages. A VCO-to-TTY TRS call allows a relay conversation to take place between a VCO user and a TTY user. VCO-to-VCO allows a relay conversation to take place between 2 VCO users.

(b) The department shall provide and maintain a SCPE distribution service, and shall make such services available to any residential subscriber who is: (i) certified by the Massachusetts commission on the deaf and hard of hearing as sufficiently deaf or hard of hearing to be in need of SCPE equipment; (ii) certified by the Massachusetts commission for the blind as sufficiently visually impaired to be in need of SCPE equipment; or (iii) certified by the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission as otherwise sufficiently disabled to be in need of SCPE equipment. Each commission may designate the department to administer the certification process required under this section. For the purposes of making this certification, the respective aforementioned commissions shall require a written verification of the claimed disability by a physician, certified audiologist or optometrist, or other medical professional qualified to verify the disability claimed, and licensed to do business in the commonwealth. The department, upon the request of a certified subscriber, shall provide SCPE equipment to the requesting subscriber. The SCPE distribution service shall include the reasonable distribution and replacement of SCPE equipment free of charge, to certified subscribers subject to this subsection and subsection (c). Such service shall be provided free of charge, or at reduced rates if the department of telecommunications and cable first certifies that the requesting subscriber is unable to afford SCPE equipment at its full cost. Any reduced rate shall be in accordance with a rate schedule established by the department of telecommunications and cable.

(c) The department and the Massachusetts commission for the deaf and hard of hearing shall review the services specified in subsection (b) and make recommendations to the department of telecommunications and cable as to whether it conforms with the provisions herein. Prior to the implementation of services under subsection (b), the department and the Massachusetts commission on the deaf and hard of hearing shall issue a request for proposals subject to the department of telecommunications and cable’s review and approval seeking competitive bids from qualified vendors to provide such services. Communications services providers shall be permitted to submit a competitive bid to provide the aforementioned services. In any rate proceeding conducted under chapter 159 in which a common carrier seeks to reflect the costs for such services in rates, the carrier shall submit to the department of telecommunications and cable information about such requests for proposals such that the department of telecommunications and cable may determine whether the carrier’s proposal would provide such services at a cost to the carrier that reflects the least cost to its ratepayers with due regard for standards of reliability and quality, consistent with the public interest.

(d) The department shall encourage prospective vendors of telecommunications relay service to provide such service from a center located within the commonwealth using residents of the commonwealth as employees of such center. Preference in employment at such center shall be given to people with disabilities as defined by this section. Specialty types of TRS shall not be required to be provided from a telecommunications service center located in the commonwealth.

(e) The department and the Massachusetts commission for the deaf and hard of hearing shall review the services specified in subsection (d) and make recommendations to the department of telecommunications and cable as to whether it conforms with the provisions herein. Prior to the implementation of such services, the department and the Massachusetts commission on the deaf and hard of hearing shall issue a request for proposals subject to the department of telecommunications and cable’s review and approval seeking competitive bids from qualified vendors to provide the aforementioned services. Communication services providers shall be permitted to submit a competitive bid to provide such services. In any rate proceeding conducted under chapter 159 in which a common carrier seeks to reflect the costs for such services in rates, such carrier shall submit to the department of telecommunications and cable information about such requests for proposals such that the department of telecommunications and cable may determine whether the carrier’s proposal would provide such services at a cost to the carrier that reflects the least cost to its ratepayers with due regard for standards of reliability and quality, consistent with the public interest.

(f) The department of telecommunications and cable, in accordance with its certification by the FCC under 47 CFR 64.604 and 64.606 shall have general oversight over all aspects of the provision of the SCPE and TRS programs, unless such certification is not renewed or is revoked. Such oversight shall include, but shall not be limited to, authority over the rates, terms, and conditions, service quality, and enforcement of federal minimum standards for the provision of such services.

(g) Any person, firm, corporation or other entity that provides public coin or coinless telephone service or semi-public coin or coinless telephone service, shall provide and maintain its public or semi-public telephones with a minimum of 25 per cent of its public or semi-public telephones with controls for sound amplification of incoming transmission consistent with Massachusetts Architectural Access Code, as provided in 521 CMR 1.0 to 47, inclusive.

(h) There shall be an advisory committee on accessibility to communication services for disabled persons. The advisory committee shall consist of the secretary of health and human services or his designee; the commissioner of the Massachusetts commission for the deaf and hard of hearing or his designee; the commissioner of the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission or his designee; the commissioner of the Massachusetts commission for the blind or his designee; the director of the Massachusetts office on disability or his designee; and 12 persons to be appointed by the governor, 2 of whom shall be persons who are deaf, 2 of whom shall be persons who are hard of hearing, and 2 who are blind, 2 with other significant vision impairments, 2 with impaired speech, and 2 with impaired mobility or motor skills. Each such member of the advisory committee shall serve for a term of 3 years. The chairperson of the advisory council shall be appointed by the governor and shall serve in such capacity for a term of 1 year. The advisory council shall meet at least quarterly and shall make recommendations to the department and the department of telecommunications and cable on all matters of policy related to communication services and equipment for people with disabilities.

(i) The department, in consultation with the department of telecommunications and cable and the advisory committee on accessibility to telephone services for disabled persons, shall promulgate necessary regulations to implement this section.

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