§ 64.610Establishment of a National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program.
(a) The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) is established as a pilot program to distribute specialized customer premises equipment (CPE) used for telecommunications service, Internet access service, and advanced communications, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The duration of this pilot program will be two years, with a Commission option to extend such program for an additional year.
(b)Certification to receive funding. For each state, the Commission will certify a single program as the sole authorized entity to participate in the NDBEDP and receive reimbursement for its program's activities from the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund (TRS Fund). Such entity will have full oversight and responsibility for distributing equipment and providing related services in that state, either directly or through collaboration, partnership, or contract with other individuals or entities in-state or out-of-state, including other NDBEDP certified programs.
(1) Any state with an equipment distribution program (EDP) may have its EDP apply to the Commission for certification as the sole authorized entity for the state to participate in the NDBEDP and receive reimbursement for its activities from the TRS Fund.
(2) Other public programs, including, but not limited to, vocational rehabilitation programs, assistive technology programs, or schools for the deaf, blind or deaf-blind; or private entities, including but not limited to, organizational affiliates, independent living centers, or private educational facilities, may apply to the Commission for certification as the sole authorized entity for the state to participate in the NDBEDP and receive reimbursement for its activities from the TRS Fund.
(3) The Commission shall review applications and determine whether to grant certification based on the ability of a program to meet the following qualifications, either directly or in coordination with other programs or entities, as evidenced in the application and any supplemental materials, including letters of recommendation:
(i) Expertise in the field of deaf-blindness, including familiarity with the culture and etiquette of people who are deaf-blind, to ensure that equipment distribution and the provision of related services occurs in a manner that is relevant and useful to consumers who are deaf-blind;
(ii) The ability to communicate effectively with people who are deaf-blind (for training and other purposes), by among other things, using sign language, providing materials in Braille, ensuring that information made available online is accessible, and using other assistive technologies and methods to achieve effective communication;
(iii) Staffing and facilities sufficient to administer the program, including the ability to distribute equipment and provide related services to eligible individuals throughout the state, including those in remote areas;
(iv) Experience with the distribution of specialized CPE, especially to people who are deaf-blind;
(v) Experience in how to train users on how to use the equipment and how to set up the equipment for its effective use; and
(vi) Familiarity with the telecommunications, Internet access, and advanced communications services that will be used with the distributed equipment.
(c)Definitions. For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1)Equipment. Hardware, software, and applications, whether separate or in combination, mainstream or specialized, needed by an individual who is deaf-blind to achieve access to telecommunications service, Internet access service, and advanced communications, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, as these services have been defined by the Communications Act.
(2)Individual who is deaf-blind.
(i) Any person:
(A) Who has a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with corrective lenses, or a field defect such that the peripheral diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees, or a progressive visual loss having a prognosis leading to one or both these conditions;
(B) Who has a chronic hearing impairment so severe that most speech cannot be understood with optimum amplification, or a progressive hearing loss having a prognosis leading to this condition; and
(C) For whom the combination of impairments described in clauses (c)(2)(i)(A) and (B) of this section cause extreme difficulty in attaining independence in daily life activities, achieving psychosocial adjustment, or obtaining a vocation.
(ii) The definition in this paragraph also includes any individual who, despite the inability to be measured accurately for hearing and vision loss due to cognitive or behavioral constraints, or both, can be determined through functional and performance assessment to have severe hearing and visual disabilities that cause extreme difficulty in attaining independence in daily life activities, achieving psychosocial adjustment, or obtaining vocational objectives. An applicant's functional abilities with respect to using telecommunications, Internet access, and advanced communications services in various environments shall be considered when determining whether the individual is deaf-blind under clauses (c)(2)(i)(B) and (C) of this section.
(1)Verification of disability. Individuals claiming eligibility under the NDBEDP must provide verification of disability from a professional with direct knowledge of the individual's disability.
(i) Such professionals may include, but are not limited to, community-based service providers, vision or hearing related professionals, vocational rehabilitation counselors, educators, audiologists, speech pathologists, hearing instrument specialists, and medical or health professionals.
(ii) Such professionals must attest, either to the best of their knowledge or under penalty of perjury, that the applicant is an individual who is deaf-blind (as defined in 47 CFR 64.610(b)). Such professionals may also include, in the attestation, information about the individual's functional abilities to use telecommunications, Internet access, and advanced communications services in various settings.
(iii) Existing documentation that a person is deaf-blind, such as an individualized education program (IEP) or a statement from a public or private agency, such as a Social Security determination letter, may serve as verification of disability.
(iv) The verification of disability must include the attesting professional's name, title, and contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address.
(2)Verification of low income status. An individual claiming eligibility under the NDBEDP must provide verification that he or she has an income that does not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines as defined at 42 U.S.C. 9902(2) or that he or she is enrolled in a federal program with a lesser income eligibility requirement, such as the Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps; Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; Medicaid; National School Lunch Program's free lunch program; Supplemental Security Income; or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The NDBEDP Administrator may identify state or other federal programs with income eligibility thresholds that do not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for determining income eligibility for participation in the NDBEDP. Where an applicant is not already enrolled in a qualifying low-income program, low-income eligibility may be verified by the certified program using appropriate and reasonable means.
(3)Prohibition against requiring employment. No program certified under the NDBEDP may impose a requirement for eligibility in this program that an applicant be employed or actively seeking employment.
(4)Access to communications services. A program certified under the NDBEDP may impose, as a program eligibility criterion, a requirement that telecommunications, Internet access, or advanced communications services are available for use by the applicant.
(e)Equipment distribution and related services.
(1) Each program certified under the NDBEDP must:
(i) Distribute specialized CPE and provide related services needed to make telecommunications service, Internet access service, and advanced communications, including interexchange services or advanced telecommunications and information services, accessible to individuals who are deaf-blind;
(ii) Obtain verification that NDBEDP applicants meet the definition of an individual who is deaf-blind contained in 47 CFR 64.610(c)(1) and the income eligibility requirements contained in 47 CFR 64.610(d)(2);
(iii) When a recipient relocates to another state, permit transfer of the recipient's account and any control of the distributed equipment to the new state's certified program; (iv) Permit transfer of equipment from a prior state, by that state's NDBEDP certified program;
(v) Prohibit recipients from transferring equipment received under the NDBEDP to another person through sale or otherwise;
(vi) Conduct outreach, in accessible formats, to inform their state residents about the NDBEDP, which may include the development and maintenance of a program Web site;
(vii) Engage an independent auditor to perform annual audits designed to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse, and submit, as necessary, to audits arranged by the Commission, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, the NDBEDP Administrator, or the TRS Fund Administrator for such purpose;
(viii) Retain all records associated with the distribution of equipment and provision of related services under the NDBEDP for two years following the termination of the pilot program; and
(ix) Comply with the reporting requirements contained in 47 CFR 64.610(g).
(2) Each program certified under the NDBEDP may not:
(i) Impose restrictions on specific brands, models or types of communications technology that recipients may receive to access the communications services covered in this section;
(ii) Disable or otherwise intentionally make it difficult for recipients to use certain capabilities, functions, or features on distributed equipment that are needed to access the communications services covered in this section, or direct manufacturers or vendors of specialized CPE to disable or make it difficult for recipients to use certain capabilities, functions, or features on distributed equipment that are needed to access the communications services covered in this section; or
(iii) Accept any type of financial arrangement from equipment vendors that could incentivize the purchase of particular equipment.
(f)Payments to NDBEDP certified programs.
(1) Programs certified under the NDBEDP shall be reimbursed for the cost of equipment that has been distributed to eligible individuals and authorized related services, up to the state's funding allotment under this program as determined by the Commission or any entity authorized to act for the Commission on delegated authority.
(2) Within 30 days after the end of each six-month period of the Fund Year, each program certified under the NDBEDP pilot must submit documentation that supports its claim for reimbursement of the reasonable costs of the following:
(i) Equipment and related expenses, including maintenance, repairs, warranties, returns, refurbishing, upgrading, and replacing equipment distributed to consumers;
(ii) Individual needs assessments;
(iii) Installation of equipment and individualized consumer training;
(iv) Maintenance of an inventory of equipment that can be loaned to the consumer during periods of equipment repair;
(v) Outreach efforts to inform state residents about the NDBEDP; and
(vi) Administration of the program, but not to exceed 15 percent of the total reimbursable costs for the distribution of equipment and related services permitted under the NDBEDP.
(3) With each request for payment, the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or other senior executive of the certified program, such as a manager or director, with first-hand knowledge of the accuracy and completeness of the claim in the request, must certify as follows:
I swear under penalty of perjury that I am (name and title), an officer of the above-named reporting entity and that I have examined all cost data associated with equipment and related services for the claims submitted herein, and that all such data are true and an accurate statement of the affairs of the above-named certified program.
(1) Each program certified under the NDBEDP must submit the following data electronically to the Commission, as instructed by the NDBEDP Administrator, every six months, commencing with the start of the pilot program:
(i) For each piece of equipment distributed, the identity of and contact information, including street and e-mail addresses, and phone number, for the individual receiving that equipment;
(ii) For each piece of equipment distributed, the identity of and contact information, including street and e-mail addresses, and phone number, for the individual attesting to the disability of the individual who is deaf-blind;
(iii) For each piece of equipment distributed, its name, serial number, brand, function, and cost, the type of communications service with which it is used, and the type of relay service it can access;
(iv) For each piece of equipment distributed, the amount of time, following any assessment conducted, that the requesting individual waited to receive that equipment;
(v) The cost, time and any other resources allocated to assessing an individual's equipment needs;
(vi) The cost, time and any other resources allocated to installing equipment and training deaf-blind individuals on using equipment;
(vii) The cost, time and any other resources allocated to maintain, repair, cover under warranty, and refurbish equipment;
(viii) The cost, time and any other resources allocated to outreach activities related to the NDBEDP, and the type of outreach efforts undertaken;
(ix) The cost, time and any other resources allocated to upgrading the distributed equipment, along with the nature of such upgrades;
(x) To the extent that the program has denied equipment requests made by their deaf-blind residents, a summary of the number and types of equipment requests denied and reasons for such denials;
(xi) To the extent that the program has received complaints related to the program, a summary of the number and types of such complaints and their resolution; and
(xii) The number of qualified applicants on waiting lists to receive equipment.
(2) With each report, the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or other senior executive of the certified program, such as a director or manager, with first-hand knowledge of the accuracy and completeness of the information provided in the report, must certify as follows:
I swear under penalty of perjury that I am (name and title), an officer of the above-named reporting entity and that I have examined the foregoing reports and that all requested information has been provided and all statements of fact are true and an accurate statement of the affairs of the above-named certified program.
(h)Administration of the program. The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau shall designate a Commission official as the NDBEDP Administrator.
(1) The NDBEDP Administrator will work in collaboration with the TRS Fund Administrator, and be responsible for:
(i) Reviewing program applications received from state EDPs and alternate entities and certifying those that qualify to participate in the program;
(ii) Allocating NDBEDP funding as appropriate and in consultation with the TRS Fund Administrator;
(iii) Reviewing certified program submissions for reimbursement of costs under the NDBEDP, in consultation with the TRS Fund Administrator;
(iv) Working with Commission staff to establish and maintain an NDBEDP Web site, accessible to individuals with disabilities, that includes contact information for certified programs by state and links to their respective Web sites, if any, and overseeing other outreach efforts that may be undertaken by the Commission;
(v) Obtaining, reviewing, and evaluating reported data for the purpose of assessing the pilot program and determining best practices;
(vi) Conferring with stakeholders, jointly or separately, during the course of the pilot program to obtain input and feedback on, among other things, the effectiveness of the pilot program, new technologies, equipment and services that are needed, and suggestions for the permanent program;
(vii) Working with Commission staff to adopt permanent rules for the NDBEDP; and
(viii) Serving as the Commission point of contact for the NDBEDP, including responding to inquiries from certified programs and consumer complaints filed directly with the Commission.
(2) The TRS Fund Administrator, as directed by the NDBEDP Administrator, shall have responsibility for:
(i) Reviewing cost submissions and releasing funds for equipment that has been distributed and authorized related services, including outreach efforts;
(ii) Releasing funds for other authorized purposes, as requested by the Commission or the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau; and
(iii) Collecting data as needed for delivery to the Commission and the NDBEDP Administrator.
(1) NDBEDP certified programs shall permit, without reprisal in the form of an adverse personnel action, purchase or contract cancellation or discontinuance, eligibility disqualification, or otherwise, any current or former employee, agent, contractor, manufacturer, vendor, applicant, or recipient, to disclose to a designated official of the certified program, the NDBEDP Administrator, the TRS Fund Administrator, the Commission's Office of Inspector General, or to any federal or state law enforcement entity, any known or suspected violations of the Act or Commission rules, or any other activity that the reporting person reasonably believes to be unlawful, wasteful, fraudulent, or abusive, or that otherwise could result in the improper distribution of equipment, provision of services, or billing to the TRS Fund.
(2) NDBEDP certified programs shall include these whistleblower protections with the information they provide about the program in any employee handbooks or manuals, on their Web sites, and in other appropriate publications.
(j)Suspension or revocation of certification.
(1) The Commission may suspend or revoke NDBEDP certification if, after notice and opportunity for hearing, the Commission determines that such certification is no longer warranted.
(2) In the event of suspension or revocation, the Commission shall take such steps as may be necessary, consistent with this subpart, to ensure continuity of the NDBEDP for the state whose program has been suspended or revoked.
(3) The Commission may, at its discretion and on its own motion, require a certified program to submit documentation demonstrating ongoing compliance with the Commission's rules if, for example, the Commission receives evidence that a state program may not be in compliance with those rules.
(k)Expiration of rules. These rules will expire at the termination of the NDBEDP pilot program.