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Kerry: Bill to Insure Broadband Access For Disabled Could Get Done This Year

Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he thought a bill to insure access to broadband by the disabled could get done this year.

That came in a hearing Wednesday (May 26) on a bill (S. 3304) introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and co-sponsored by Kerry that would guarantee access to Internet services and equipment to the disabled.

The bill would require the FCC within 18 months of passage of the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, to set "standards to ensure the accessibility, usability, and compatibility of advanced communications and the equipment used for advanced communications by individuals with disabilities."

At the hearing, Kerry said that the "huge companies" who own the Internet pipes don't necessarily have to make a good faith effort to make them accessible to the disabled, and that the bill would correct that, starting with the largest companies. "We are not going to accept a communications struture that refuses, out of stubbornness, to include people with disabilities," Kerry said.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who spoke at the hearing, said the bill, and a complementary one in the House (H. 3101)  are meant to fill in any gaps and insure inclusion of the disabled through "accessible, affordable and usable communications technology." He, too, said he thought the bill was doable this year.

Just as the Americans With Disabilities Act broke down physical barriers, said Markey, the current bills need to insure that no new digital walls are erected, the legislators said.

One of the things Markey is pushing for is closed captioning and video description for online video content, citing "the rapid rise of online video options such as Hulu."

Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller called the effort a necessary updating of civil rights legislation for the digital age.