At its open meeting this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received a status report on the implementation of broad disabilities access obligations passed three years ago.  In the presentation, FCC staff members reported that the Commission met all of the implementation deadlines in the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and reminded service providers and equipment manufacturers of the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the Act.

The FCC's new disabilities access rules apply potentially significant new obligations to a variety of entities that may not otherwise consider themselves subject to the FCC's jurisdiction.  These rules are being implemented in stages, with many obligations taking full effect in the next six months.  Providers of advanced communications services and equipment manufacturers should review these obligations carefully to ensure that their services and equipment are compliant with the new requirements.

The CVAA ensures persons with disabilities have access to digital, broadband and mobile innovations. As we have noted in prior posts, CVAA compliance obligations range from a requirement that mobile phone manufacturer and service providers ensure that web browsers on mobile phones can be accessed and used by the blind and visually impaired, to a closed captioning obligation for service and content providers using Internet protocol (IP) to deliver video programming and for certain consumer devices used to watch video programming, to accessibility, registration, recordkeeping, and product development requirements related to advanced communications services (e.g., electronic messaging services and other communications not traditionally subject to carrier regulation).

Compliance Deadlines Looming.  Most importantly, the FCC staff presentation reminded affected entities that most of its compliance obligations, including full compliance with the advanced communications services requirements and mobile phone web browser accessibility, take effect on October 8, 2013.  Most apparatuses used to view video programming must be capable of displaying closed captioning by January 1, 2014.  Further, pending rulemaking proceedings include, among others, a new proceeding addressing the accessibility by individuals who are blind or visually impaired of user interfaces on digital apparatuses and navigation devices used to view video programming.

Broad Support for Increased Accessibility.  In statements on the Report, Acting Chairwoman Clyburn and Commissioners Pai and Rosenworcel pointed out the importance of the CVAA in ensuring people with disabilities have access to video programming and new communications technologies and services, and applauded the work of FCC staff in implementing the CVAA. The FCC’s focus on enabling accessibility to new technologies and services by people with disabilities appears to be part of a bigger trend of ensuring universal access to new communications technologies. From the new E-Rate 2.0 proceeding that will ensure schools and libraries have access to high-speed broadband, to the ongoing Universal Service Reform proceeding that is expanding the availability of broadband service nationwide, it is clear that communications industry will continue to evolve for some time to come.