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Bill Would Give FCC More Authority To Vet Accessibility

Related: Partisan Bickering Erupts at Online Accessibility Hearing

A draft of a new version of HR 3101 would appear to give the FCC more flexibility to determine how broadcast and cable operators would meet a new congressional mandate that disability access to telecommunications requirements be updated to reflect the rise of broadband and other technologies.

In the previous version of the bill, which was subject to a heated hearing featuring various stakeholders, the FCC must require various phone, TV and online accessibility measures, including making mobile devices accessible, unless it would result in an "undue burden."

According to the draft of the new bill, which is being marked up June 30, "undue burden" has been changed to the stricter "not achievable." That is defined as "with reasonable effort or expense."

The FCC would have the job of determining whether that standard had been met, based on the nature and cost, the impact on the manufacturer and distributor and the deployment of new technologies, the manufacturers financial resources, and "the type of operations of the manufacturer or provider."

That standard was described by an industry vet as a midpoint between a "not readily achievable" standard and "undue burden."

The FCC will also have the ability on its own authority or in response to a waiver request, to waive the requirement.

The cable industry has said it supports the spirit of the bill, and even the letter with some tweaks, including a phase-in period for some of the requirements.

Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro has major problems with the bill, which he outlined at the June 9 hearing on the bill. He said the bill as drafted deters innovation because of overbroad mandates that require every device to be accessible to all disabilities.

"We are continuing to work constructively with the committee staff and are hopeful there will be a successful outcome to the discussions," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.