FCC Gets Flexible WithDisability-Access Regs

The Federal Communications Commission
has given cable operators time, flexibility and the potential
for waivers in implementing disability access legislation
governing advanced services.

The agency, though, declined to exclude voice-over-Internet
protocol and advanced devices that employ VoIP
technology from the new rules. The National Cable &
Telecommunications Association had asked for that

The regulations come out of the October 2010 passage
of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video
Accessibility Act (CVAA), which gave the FCC a year to
come up with rules for implementation of the changes.

The law updates Telecommunications Act disabilityaccess
provisions in a way that reflects the rise of
broadband. Changes include reinstating FCC videodescription
rules that were tossed out by a federal court
in 1992 and applying closed-captioning rules to online
video, as well as TV. The agency also asked for more
comment on topics such as exempting small businesses.

The FCC said earlier this month that there would be a
two-year phase-in of requirements that advanced communications
services — texting, interconnected and
noninterconnected VoIP, and interoperable video conferencing
— be made accessible to the disabled (by using
closed captioning or video description, for example).

As requested by a number of commenters, including
the National Cable & Telecommunications Association,
the FCC said it would afford service providers and manufacturers
“as much flexibility to achieve compliance as
possible, so long as each does everything that is achievable
in accordance with the achievability factors.”

The accessibility requirements apply to noninterconnected
VoIP systems; electronic messaging, including
instant messaging; and interoperable video-conferencing
services. But they do not apply to blog posts, online
publishing or messages on social-networking sites.

The accessibility requirements also will not apply to
machine-to-machine communications like automatic
software updates.

The FCC will not grant “class” waivers for digital video
players, IP-enabled TVs or gaming services and software.

Agreeing with the NCTA, the FCC said video mail
accompanying video conferencing does not qualify as
real-time video communications subject to the order.

The NCTA had wanted all interconnected VoIP services
to be grandfathered under the previous disability
access rules.

The FCC can fine violators up to $100,000 per day for
ongoing violation up to $1 million per incident.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.