The FCC is accusing this company of cheating the deaf


File: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that it will issue a $11.9 million fine against Purple Communications, for allegedly improperly billing a government fund dedicated to providing assistive communication services to the deaf, hearing-impaired and those with speech impairments.

California-based Purple is one of several companies authorized by the government to provide government-supported services for those communities, by way of the telecommunications relay fund. Broadly, this fund reimburses companies that provide transcription services and other services to the deaf.

Companies that provide these services are reimbursed for every minute that they provide them. They are required to verify that those who use their services have legitimate names and mailing addresses. The FCC has been concerned about abuses within the program.

In its statement, the FCC said that Purple was reimbursed for providing some of its services to "customers with names that were so clearly false that they could not have  been the actual names of eligible users." These names included “sdfsdf cicwcicw,” “ Myname Yourname,” and “Lot$a Money," according to the release.

The proposed fine is partially based on the amount that Purple drew from the fund between June 2010 and June 2011, the agency said.

Purple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The FCC has been looking closely at reforming the telecommunications relay service fund and has proposed new policies to protect against fraud in the program.

In May 2012, AT&T paid nearly  $18.3 million to the FCC after it was accused of failing to adequately verify the identities of those registering for captioned phones. Doing so, the FCC alleged, allowed scammers in foreign countries to use the services to mask operations in which they bought goods with stolen credit card numbers.

 

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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