Illinois Awards $75 Million Contract for Telecommunications Relay Service

The Illinois Telecommunications Access Corp. (ITAC), on behalf of the 75 local-exchange carriers in the state, awarded a contract worth up to $75 million to Sprint for a telecommunications relay service (TRS) that will support Illinois' deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf and blind, and speech-disabled consumers.

With Illinois' current contract due to expire, the state sought improved service through competitive bidding, said Trudy Snell, ITAC's executive director. "Sprint's was the most cost-effective bid we received...and they offer more advanced features," she said.

The existing service handles about 1.8 million calls per year. However, Sprint's plan will create new features including a speech-to-speech relay service for persons with certain speech disabilities.

TRS operators relay phone conversations between standard voice-telephone users and text-telephone users. Working as an intermediary, the operators read words to a hearing person that are typed and transmitted electronically by a deaf person and transcribe the hearing person's response, which appears on the text screen of the hearing-impaired caller. "There's a live person working on every phone call, and we currently do not have that," Snell said, noting that Illinois expects to add caller ID service to the contract during the upcoming year.

The three-year contract, which includes options for five additional years, still must be approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is expected to rule on the matter in late January. Once approved, Illinois will become the 24th state to use Sprint's TRS, with full-time service scheduled to begin in February.

ITAC is a not-for-profit organization founded by the state's phone companies to oversee Illinois telecommunications distribution. The group is not part of the state's public utilities commission, but is governed by it, Snell said.

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