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FCC approves real-time text proposal to aid people with disabilities

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The FCC has approved a proposal to help people with disabilities use telephone services more easily through real-time text technology. Real-time text, or RTT, is a replacement for TTY typewriter devices that work across conventional phone lines and help people who have difficulty hearing; RTT is designed for wireless networks. Text is sent as soon as it's typed without the need for a separate "send" command, which the FCC says lends a more conversational rhythm and also allows for at least some information to get through if it's not possible to complete the message.

The transition to RTT became more pressing last year as American mobile carriers engaged in a public spat over the issue. AT&T accused T-Mobile and Sprint of launching Wi-Fi calling services without obtaining a waiver from the FCC, which is necessary because TTY doesn't always work reliably with Wi-Fi. AT&T eventually got its waiver and launched the Wi-Fi calling feature, with Verizon later following suit.

"Real-time text enables the full integration of people with disabilities into IP communications networks as they become widely available," the FCC said in a statement. The commission is proposing to recognize RTT as a replacement for TTY on wireless networks from December 2017, and is looking into doing the same for landlines.