New Act Requires FCC to Establish Rules to Ensure Access to IP–based Communications and Video Programming for People with Disabilities


On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“the Act”).  The Act aims to ensure access to Internet Protocol (“IP”)-based communications and video programming. The Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) to issue new regulations to implement its provisions which include mandates for hearing aid compatibility for VoIP and related services (including electronic messaging and video conferencing).  Equipment manufacturers and service providers alike must ensure that their products and services are accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

The Act exempts equipment manufacturers or service providers already subject to the provisions of Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.  The Act instructs the FCC to establish new public complaint, investigation and reporting procedures under Section 255.  In addition, the Act requires manufacturers of mobile phones with Internet capability to make browsing functions accessible to and usable by visually impaired customers. The Act exempts manufacturers and providers that cannot achieve compliance with reasonable effort or expense.

The Act further requires all VoIP providers (both interconnected and non-interconnected) to contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services (“TRS”) Fund.  The Act also requires the Commission to create an advisory committee to address issues of access to emergency services and to evaluate access to video programming (including closed captioning and video description) by individuals with disabilities.  Video programming equipment must also be equipped for closed captioning decoding and have video description capabilities.  And, if achievable, on-screen menus must be audibly accessible to disabled customers. The regulations must be implemented at various intervals over the next 6 months – 6 years.

On October 21, 2010, the FCC‘s Consumer and Governmental Affairs and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus released a Public Notice seeking comment on a number of issues relating to the Act, including certain definitions under the Act.  And, the Commission seeks comment on how to determine when compliance is not reasonably achievable.  Finally, the Notice solicits comment on the use of third party applications and devices to comply with the Act.  Comments are due on November 22, 2010, with reply comments due by December 7, 2010.

For more information, see:

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

Public Notice

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