With the contracts for the provision of telecommunications services for the hearing and vision impaired due to expire on 30 June 2019, the Government has commenced a public consultation to prepare for the provision of services beyond that date.
Broadcasting, communications and digital media minister Clare Curran and disability issues minister Carmel Sepuloni have released a consultation document on the Telecommunications Relay Services that provide a range of text and video based telecommunications services free of charge to people who are hearing and vision impaired.
Curran said there had been significant advances in communications technologies since the service started in 2004, such as video applications, that had increased the accessibility of traditional communications tools.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) commenced the procurement process for the provision of services beyond June 2019 with the release of a RoI on 14 November 2017.
It sought to gather information from prospective providers of future services on the technological developments that could be employed in New Zealand, and to inform the consultation paper.
The current relay service was established in 2004 as a Telecommunications Service Obligation (TSO) under the Telecommunications Act 2001, to provide communication tools for users who cannot access traditional means of communication.
Sprint International New Zealand is the current TSO provider, and services are delivered from a contact centre in Auckland, managed by Communication Services for the Deaf (CSD).
Separate from the TSO, the New Zealand Video Interpreting Service (VIS) was launched on 1 July 2016 upon the amalgamation of two preceding video interpreting services. VIS enables New Zealand Sign Language users to make phone calls or use a video interpreter from a computer, tablet or laptop. CSD has been contracted to provide this service also.
Submissions to the consultation are due by 13 April. The government plans to issue a RFP in mid-2018, with a view to awarding a contract in late 2018 and having the new service operational on 1 July 2019.
The consultation paper notes that renewal of the relay service is in line with the Government’s Disability Strategy 2016 – 2026. This “aims for New Zealand to be a non-disabling society – a place where disabled people have an equal opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations, and all of New Zealand works together to make this happen.”
It says the Disability Action Plan will be the primary vehicle for implementing the strategy and the current four-year plan, covering 2014-2018, is set to be reviewed and updated in 2018.