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Telecom Bill Could Affect Members

The long-waited 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008, H.R. 6320, supported by the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, of which NCRA is a founding member, was introduced by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on June 19.

Telecommunications technologies have a proven ability to empower individuals with the necessary tools of the information age. These technological tools can animate the personal use of communications for work or enjoyment, but also impact health care delivery, educational opportunities, the prospects for employment, and job creation.

The goal of this legislation is to establish new safeguards for disability access to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind as technology changes and the United States migrates to the next generation of Internet-based and digital communication technologies.

Of direct relevance to NCRA's members, this bill:

  • Requires closed captioning decoder circuitry in all video programming devices, including PDAs, computers, iPods, cell phones, DVD players, TIVO devices and battery-operated TVs. (Current law: Decoder circuitry is only required on TVs with screens of at least 13 inches.)
  • Extends closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet: covers Web-based video services that offer previously shown television programs and live video streaming that would otherwise be covered by the FCC's captioning rules. (Current law: Closed captions required on most televised analog and digital broadcast, cable and satellite TV shows.)
  • Requires easy access to user interfaces (controls) on video programming devices by people with disabilities, including audio output for people who are blind and visually impaired and one-button access on remote controls to closed captioning and video description functions.
  • Restores FCC's video description rules and applies them to digital programming.

Introduction of this legislation, which enjoys broad support, is a positive step. Even if action is not taken in this congressional session, we expect the bill to be introduced again in the 111th Congress.