Insights Ofcom answers questions on its new emergency video relay service

In June 2021, Ofcom announced its decision to launch a new emergency video relay service in the UK. Ofcom says that it has received several questions, mainly from the telecoms industry, about how the service will work.

Ofcom has answered some of these questions, saying that it will add to them as necessary as the launch date approaches:

  • Why is emergency video relay being introduced? — Ofcom says that emergency video relay will enable deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users to contact the emergency services in their first language in addition to the existing means of contacting the emergency services (voice 999, text relay 999 and SMS 999).
  • When does the obligation come into force? — 17 June 2022.
  • Who must provide emergency video relay? — Any person who provides: (i) Internet Access Services to End-Users; or (ii) Number-based Interpersonal Communications Services, where it is technically feasible to provide an Emergency Video Relay Service to End-Users; these terms are defined in the General Conditions of Entitlement.
  • What is the obligation? — the wording was published in Ofcom’s June 2021 statement and will be incorporated into the General Conditions of Entitlement at C5.11 and C5.12.
  • What is the service that Ofcom has approved? — On 27 January 2022, Ofcom approved Sign Language Interactions’ (SLI) emergency video relay service which regulated providers can use in order to meet these obligations.
  • What is BT’s role? — BT has announced its proposal to wholesale emergency video relay and provided contact details for the relevant team; Ofcom said in June 2021 that voice 999 call handling, text relay and emergency SMS were all currently supplied by BT on a wholesale basis in the UK, with providers paying for their customers’ use of these services; Ofcom is aware that not all regulated providers have an existing billing relationship with BT, and has ensured that information about BT’s proposal has been shared with trade bodies representing many of these providers.
  • How will zero-rating work? — Regulated providers are required to provide emergency video relay free of charge to end users and where technically feasible apply an incremental price of zero to any associated data traffic.
  • What is the obligation to promote emergency video relay? — There is an obligation in General Condition C5.6 for regulated providers to take all reasonable steps to widely publicise services for disabled people.
  • What does it mean to be able to access and use emergency video relay? — Regulated providers will need to ensure that end users are not prevented from being able to use emergency video relay; this is the same wording as in the obligations for text relay.
  • Will emergency video relay be available in the whole of the UK? — Emergency video relay will cover the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland where some deaf people use Irish Sign Language (ISL).
  • Can emergency video be accessed from outside the UK? — Ofcom says that it is possible that people may make emergency video relay calls from outside the UK, but the calls will only be able to be connected to UK 999 control rooms; voice 999 calls are sometimes received from outside the UK, e.g. calls from mobile handsets close to an international border such as Ireland; such calls are dealt with by UK emergency authorities, so this would be equivalent.

To read Ofcom’s answers in full, click here.