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House Preps Communications Access Upgrade Bill

The House Communications
Subcommittee has scheduled a markup Wednesday (June 30) on HR 3101, the
Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009.

The bill is an effort to
update accessibility requirements in the Telecommunications Act to reflect
the rise of broadband and other communications services as central to full
societal participation. The last update was in 1996.

Among the bill's
proposed changes are: 1) requiring equipment for small-screen video devices to convey
closed captioning and emergency information, 2) requiring user interfaces for
viewing video on such devices be accessible, including an accessibility button
on remote controls, and 3) would reinstate FCC video description
requirements for TV programming (they were vacated by a D.C. court in 2002),
apply closed captioning requirements to the Internet, and require that video
programming convey emergency information to the visually impaired.

The National Cable &
Telecommunications Association applauded the spirit of the bill, but
argues that the industry should be given the time and flexibility to respond,
by phasing in online captioning obligations, for example.

The Consumer Electronics
Association has taken a harder line on the bill. The CEA president has
told Congress that the bill is overly broad, will chill innovation and ignores
products already on the market that serve the needs of the disability

In a memo on the
hearing, the Democrats say to expect a manager's amendment to be substituted
for the base bill Wednesday with some changes following ongoing talks with
staff and stakeholders.