FCC commissioners today voted to propose rules that recognized real-time text (RTT) technology as a replacement for legacy text-telephone (TTY) device that have been used by hearing- and speech-impaired users for decades. RTT would replace TTY on wireless phone networks beginning in December 2017, and the FCC proceeding will consider a similar transition for IP-based landline networks and broader text-to-911 services.

“There was a time when [TTY] was revolutionary, but that date has long since passed—the machines are bulky, cumbersome devices, and they have none of the slick features of today’s smartphones,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said during the meeting, which was webcast. “Moreover, TTY is ill-suited for transmission over IP networks.

“It is clear that it is time to move beyond TTY systems and embrace the future … Real-time text offers immediate transmission of text and allows for both parties to type at once—a definite improvement over traditional TTY. Even better, this technology is generally available on off-the-shelf devices, making larger market scale and more innovation more possible. So [say] ‘goodbye’ to 1970s-era TTY hardware, and ‘hello’ to communications technology that reflects the digital age.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn described TTY as “obsolete in today’s IP-based environment” but expressed support that RTT should be backward-compatible to enable interaction with the existing TTY user base.

During a press conference conducted after the commission meeting, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the RTT item is significant.