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Comcast data caps make life for deaf difficult

Wes Williams Nov 30, 2015

It’s hard to find a Comcast Internet customer who doesn’t loathe the idea of the company’s forthcoming data usage limits, but usage caps may prove particularly painful to one group: the deaf and hard of hearing.

Comcast’s data usage caps for its Internet customers will expand to eight more cities Tuesday. The caps limit users to 300 GB of data monthly, with the alternative of facing fines or paying a steeper rate to get unlimited access.

And unlimited access is especially crucial for many in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community who use Video Relay Service, or VRS, to conduct phone calls. The calls are facilitated using a sign language interpreter on the other end – and that requires an Internet video feed.

“It’s really important to the deaf community because it provides visual communication,” said Dan Hoffman, the ASL and Deaf Studies program coordinator for Utah Valley University.

VRS does not use that much data — 5-10 megabits per second, according to Sorenson VRS, one of the leading VRS companies — but that adds up when you’re also using your connection for normal browsing.

“Hearing people can call using their phones any time they want to…they don’t have any cap like that,” said Hoffman, who is deaf and also a Comcast customer.

For Hoffman and others in the deaf community, equal access means that if hearing people can communicate without time limits using telephones, that the deaf community ought to be able to also. He said rather than pay Comcast’s steeper rates for unlimited use, many deaf people would simply transfer services if a cap were in place.

The FCC does have protections in place to ensure the adequate provision of telecommunications services to the deaf community, but from a cursory read, it is unclear if capping VRS use is an Americans with Disabilities Act violation. The communications agency was not able to comment on the story.

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