Phone bills will be going up soon to finance a program so the hearing-impaired can use the telephone, but the amount of the increase is still not firm.
A stipulation agreement presented to the Utah Public Service Commission asks that the portion of the surcharge funding the relay system increase to 5.5 cents monthly for each telephone access line in Utah. The agreement also recommended an additional 1.8 cents per month to fund purchase and distribution of telecommunications devices, but the commissioners said they need more information before they can approve that portion.The PSC members want to know the number of devices and the cost per unit for the system.
Legislation approved by the Legislature this year allows the PSC to increase the surcharge from the current 3 cents per line to a maximum of 10 cents per line. Utah telephone customers will pay less than $1 annually for the added help to the handicapped.
A 5.5-cent surcharge would give the relay system about $417,397 annually to cover operating costs. Madeleine Perkins, relay service project director, said the number of operators would increase from three to seven during peak demand periods. She said the increase may also allow some lifting of time restrictions and limitations on the kinds of calls allowed. Presently, business calls are not allowed and social calls are restricted to 15 minutes in length.
The PSC's Hearing and Speech Impaired Telecommunications Advisory Committee was told to determine how many telecommunications devices are needed to adequately run the program, and at what cost. Commission Chairman Ted Stewart said the commission will set the final surcharge rate as soon as it gets the information.
The committee was also asked to study the costs of telebraille devices for the blind and equipment for the speech-impaired.