By Linda Vandeloop, AT&T Assistant Vice President of Federal Regulatory

In the 1960’s, TTY was first introduced.  At the time, it was revolutionary.  People who were deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or had a speech disability could finally communicate with friends, family and 911 operators – either directly in a TTY-to-TTY session, or indirectly through a telecommunications relay service (TRS) provider as a result of technological deployments in the 1970s and 1980s.  Since then, although technological innovation in communications has been exponential, in 2017, people with hearing loss and speech disabilities are still communicating with a TTY or via text messaging.

That’s why today, AT&T is pleased to announce the launch of a new service – Real-time Text (RTT) – that replaces TTY and brings communications for people with hearing loss and speech disabilities into the 21st Century.  RTT is a text-based communication service that alleviates many of TTY’s short comings.  TTY requires turn taking, allows for the use of only a small set of device-generated characters, and is very slow.  With RTT, each text character is transmitted and received in near real time, allowing for a conversational flow of communication, simultaneously with voice.  This allows for a two-way conversation without requiring turn taking.

And it doesn’t require specialized equipment.  AT&T’s service works on Apple or Android smart phones with updated operating systems.  As a result, RTT permits today’s users to incorporate into their communications the rich set of device-generated characters available on modern smart phones to enhance and enliven their discussions.  All a user needs to do is make sure their operating system is up to date and then download the RTT app from their device’s app store.  RTT users will be able to communicate directly with both other RTT users as well as with TTY users, such as 911 centers and relay services.

RTT calls will be billed as voice calls.  So, coinciding with the launch of RTT, we have changed the AT&T Accessibility plans for smart phones to include unlimited voice to address any concerns our customers may have about the cost of using RTT.

This launch on AT&T’s network is the first step in making RTT as widely available as possible.  Initially, AT&T RTT users will be able to communicate with other users on AT&T’s network.  By the end of the year, more carriers will deploy the service, enabling communication between networks.  And, by 2021, most if not all carriers will be offering RTT.  So, half a century after TTY was first introduced, AT&T is excited to be leading the charge and offering this new service making communications even more accessible for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have a speech disability.

For more information on AT&T’s RTT service, billing options and how to download the app, please visit here.

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