Beginning July 1, Maryland phone customers will begin paying an additional 45 cents per phone line each month to fund a telephone access system for the state's 350,000 deaf and hearing-impaired residents.
The surcharge, which totals $5.40 a year per line, was approved by the Public Service Commission Wednesday.
About 2.8 million customers of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. will be affected by the surcharge, which will appear on monthly C&P bills as a separate line item.
The funds will be used to subsidize the cost of handling calls for hearing-impaired customers, which can run $10 or more for a local call.
Maryland's telephone access system will provide a relay center to place calls from hearing-impaired customers who use a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) to hearing phone customers with conventional phones, and vice versa. The center, which will be staffed by about 180 telephone operators, will operate 24 hours a day year-round.
John C. White, assistant secretary for telecommunications for the state Department of General Services, which is overseeing the project, said Maryland's relay center should open in December and be fully operational by the beginning of 1992.
According to Mr. White, the relay center will create about 200 new jobs in Maryland. He said the site of the new center has not been selected.
The center, once operational, will work like this: TDD customers will contact the center and, using their TDD, pass along the name and telephone number of the person they wish to call and the message they want to relay. An operator at the center then records that information and places the call for the TDD customer. The process works in reverse for hearing customers who wish to contact hearing-impaired people.
Mr. White said the center will cost about $13 million a year to maintain. The contract to build the new center will be put up for competitive bids later this month, he said.
The center is being built as part of the Telecommunications Access for Maryland bill signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer this week.