Matt Powers, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sorenson Communications will cut its IP Relay department at the end of the month, and that means about 120 Utahns will be out of a job.
Internet Protocol Relay is a free service for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired to place and receive text-based relay calls using a computer or mobile device.
Sorenson Communications made the decision after the Federal Communications Commission reduced the rate paid to companies providing the service by 21 percent on July 1. The FCC will continue to reduce the paid rate for companies an additional 6 percent each of the following two years.
Paul Kershisnik, Sorenson's chief marketing officer, said the company just can't make a profit while providing Internet Protocol Relay.
“When what you're being paid is below your actual cost, you really only have one choice and that's to get out of business,” Kershisnik said.
About 150 employees will be affected by the department being shut down, and 20 to 30 may be able to transition to another department in Sorenson Communications. Most of the layoffs will be in Salt Lake City, and a few will be in Price.
The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates the provision of "functionally equivalent" telecommunication services for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. The services are provided by companies and paid for by a fund supported by telecommunications carriers and overseen by the FCC.
To use IP Relay, the user types a message to a communication assistant. That person reads the message to the person on the phone, the phone user responds, and the communication assistant types a response for the person using IP Relay to read.
For people like Emisha Sill, who has been using Sorenson's SIPRelay since 2007, the news was disappointing.
"I was really dumbfounded," Sill said through an interpreter. "I couldn't believe it."
She said she liked the system because she works with her hands all day and signs all day.
“Sometimes I enjoy sitting on the couch and just relaxing and be able to send a text without having to actually sign,” she said.
Marilyn Call, director for the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the state of Utah, said the cut won't have a big impact on the deaf community.
“In Utah, 8.8 percent of the population have significant enough hearing loss to need some sort of help to be able to see the voice on the phone, either through sign language or though text. Less than 1 percent would use the SIPRelay,” Call said. "Most of them use a text telephone where they can use their own voice or they use video relay."
Sorenson Communications is the third IP Relay provider to discontinue the service in the past three months. Only two companies are left. Sorenson Communications will help customers who want to keep using IP Relay to port their number to another IP Relay provider through Aug. 31. The remaining IP Relay providers are listed on the FCC website at www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/trs-providers.
Sill said that she will most likely switch to video relay, but she is not happy because the video quality isn't always great and the screen can be hard to see.
"I guess I'm just going to have to use my ntouch mobile (application) and just kind of be patient with it and suffer through it because I really don't have any other options," she said.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc