With FCC leadership soon shifting as the current administration winds down, there have been several interesting accessibility-related developments. In addition, several important FCC accessibility rule compliance deadlines have recently passed or are on the near horizon.
Today, January 17, 2017, is the deadline for all mobile wireless service providers, including MVNOs and resellers, to file information with the FCC concerning compliance with the FCC’s hearing aid compatibility requirements using FCC electronic Form 655. Under section 20.19 of the FCC rules, mobile wireless service providers and device manufacturers are required to offer handsets that are compatible with (do not cause interference with) hearing aids and cochlear implants. The annual report due today seeks information related to the number of compliant handsets offered by each filer, handset retail availability, product labelling, customer outreach and posted website information.
Less than three months from now, April 1, 2017, is the deadline for submitting Record Keeping Compliance Certifications to the FCC in connection with accessibility requirements governing telecommunications services, including broadband Internet access service (BIAS), and advanced communications services (ACS, which includes electronic messaging services). FCC rule section 14.31 requires telecommunications and ACS service providers to keep records describing (1) their efforts, in developing covered products and services, to consult with individuals with disabilities; (2) the accessibility features of their covered products and services; and (3) information about the compatibility of their products and services with third party accessibility solutions (such as screen reader software).
And last month, as of December 20, 2016, (1) manufacturers and all but the smallest MVPDs1 were required to ensure that on-screen text menus and guides provided for the display or selection of video programming are audibly accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable; and (2) built-in functions included in all video programming “digital apparatus” must be accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or visually impaired, and on-screen text menus or other built-in visual indicators used to access certain functions must be accompanied by audio output. The FCC had widely discouraged MVPDs and manufacturers from seeking extensions of this deadline. Nevertheless, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. (“Honda”) filed a waiver request seeking an additional 20 months to come into compliance, asserting that it had been unaware that certain regulations regarding CVAA “talking guide” and captioning “button” requirements were applicable to its in-vehicle video delivery systems, also known as rear entertainment systems (RES).
The FCC has also taken recent steps to transition away from outdated text telephone (TTY) technology that does not work well with wireless IP networks. First, on December 16, 2016, the FCC issued an order that accelerates the transition away from old telecommunications technology to new, as the FCC will permit wireless carriers with Internet protocol-based (IP-based) networks to utilize real-time text (RTT) instead of TTY to meet accessibility requirements requiring voice communications to be accessible to persons who are deaf or hearing impaired. Second, on January 13, 2017, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau granted a temporary waiver of FCC rules that require carriers to support TTY technology on IP-based wireless services to 31 small wireless carriers. As conditions of the waiver, the covered carriers (who provide wireless services in Iowa in collaboration with i-Wireless) must notify consumers that their IP-based wireless services will not support TTY technology for calls to 911, provide consumers with information about alternative text-based accessibility solutions, and file periodic progress reports on the development of real-time text with the Commission.
Finally, on December 23, 2016, the FCC granted Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA’s) request for an additional 12-month waiver of the FCC’s advanced communications services (ACS) accessibility rules for ESA’s video game software, which is capable of accessing ACS (i.e., Internet voice and text communication). Under the FCC’s rules, ACS must be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those who are blind or sight-impaired, if achievable. The FCC may waive the requirements where using ACS is not the service’s primary purpose as in game play.