Legislation Would Require Accessibility for New Internet-Enabled Telephone and Television Services

Extends the closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet.

by / June 23, 2008

Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Heather Wilson (R-NM) have introduced "The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008" (H.R. 6320). According to The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), the bill would amend the Communications Act to ensure that new Internet-enabled telephone and television services are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities and closes existing gaps in telecommunications laws.

The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA). The bill includes the following specific measures:

Communications Access:

  • Requires access to phone-type equipment and services used over the
  • Adds improved accountability and enforcement measures for accessibility, including a clearinghouse and reporting obligations by providers and manufacturers.
  • Requires telephone products used with the Internet to be hearing-aid compatible.
  • Allows use of Lifeline and Link-up universal service funds (USF) for
    broadband services.
  • Allocates up to $10 million/year from USF for equipment used by people
    who are deaf-blind.
  • Clarifies the scope of relay services to include calls between and
    among people with disabilities and require Internet-based service
    providers to contribute to the Interstate Relay Fund.

Video Programming Access

  • Requires decoder circuitry in all video programming devices.
  • Extends the closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet: covers programming that would otherwise be covered by the FCC's captioning rules, not user-generated content.
  • Requires easy access to closed captions via remote control, on-screen
  • Requires easy access by blind people to television controls and program selection menus.
  • Restores video description rules and requires access to televised emergency programming for people who are blind or have low vision.

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, or COAT, which was launched in March 2007, is a coalition of over 200 national and local organizations that advocates for full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and Internet protocol (IP) technologies.