S. 3304: Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act

S. 3304

Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act

Sponsor
Sen. Mark L. Pryor

Date
September 28, 2010 (111th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

S. 3304 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, under a motion to suspend the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage.  The legislation was introduced by Sen. Pryor (D-AR) on May 4, 2010.  The Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent on August 5, 2010. 

Bill Summary

This legislation would broaden the accessibility of new technologies, such as MP3 players, iPhones and digital video recorders, to individuals with disabilities.  S. 3304 would require that video programming devices, such as MP3 players and digital video recorders, be capable of closed captioning, video description and emergency alerts.  The bill would also require that manufacturers design telephones to be hearing-aid-compatible, although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be able to exempt manufacturers and service providers from regulations that would be economically burdensome.  The legislation would stipulate that no action taken by the FCC to implement the bill could mandate the use or incorporation of proprietary technology.

Communications Access:  The bill would direct the FCC to require that certain equipment provide internal means for effective use with hearing aids that are designed to be compatible with telephones.  The requirement would apply to all telephones and equipment used with advanced communications services that are designed to provide two-way voice communication via a built-in speaker intended to be held to the ear in a manner functionally equivalent to a telephone.

Within one year of enactment, each interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider and each provider of non-interconnected VoIP service would have to participate in and contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund.  The term "telecommunications relay services" would mean telephone transmission services that provide the ability for an individual who is deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who has a speech disability to engage in communication by wire or radio with one or more individuals, in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of a hearing individual who does not have a speech disability to communicate using voice communication services by wire or radio.

Access to Advanced Communication Services & Equipment:  The bill would require that a manufacturer of equipment used for advanced communications services—including end user equipment, network equipment, and software—ensure that the equipment and software that the manufacturer offers for sale would be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, unless the requirements of this bill are not achievable.

The bill would require a provider of advanced communications services to ensure that the services offered by the provider in or affecting interstate commerce are accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, unless the requirements of the bill are not achievable.

The bill would provide the FCC with the authority to waive the requirements of this section for any feature or function of equipment used to provide or access advanced communications services.

Enforcement and Reporting:  The bill would require that the FCC establish regulations that facilitate the filing of complaints that allege a violation, to establish procedures for enforcement actions by the FCC with respect to the violations, and to implement the record-keeping obligations for manufacturers and providers.

The bill would require the FCC to establish a clearinghouse of information on the availability of accessible products and services and accessibility solutions.

Internet Browsers in Telephones:  The bill would stipulate that if a manufacturer of a telephone used with public mobile services includes an Internet browser, or if a provider of mobile service arranges for the inclusion of a browser in telephones, then the manufacturer or provider would have to ensure that the functions of the browser are accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or have a visual impairment, unless doing so is not achievable.

Video Programming:  The bill would require that the FCC establish an advisory committee to be known as the Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee. S. 3307 would require the committee to develop and submit to the FCC a report that includes the following recommendations:

•   A schedule of deadlines for the provision of closed captioning service;

•  An identification of the performance requirement for protocols, technical capabilities, and technical procedures needed to permit content providers, content distributors, Internet service providers, software developers, and device manufacturers to reliably encode, transport, receive, and render closed captions of video programming delivered using Internet protocol;

•  An identification of additional protocols, technical capabilities, and technical procedures beyond those available as of the date of enactment of the measure for the delivery of closed captions of video programming delivered using Internet protocol that are necessary to meet the performance objectives;

•  A recommendation for technical standards to address the performance objectives; and

•  A recommendation for any regulations that could be necessary to ensure compatibility between video programming (except for consumer generated media) delivered using Internet protocol and devices capable of receiving and displaying the programming in order to facilitate access to closed captions.

Emergency Information:  Under the bill, within one year after the Advisory Committee submits its report to the FCC, the FCC would be required to identify methods to convey emergency information in a manner accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Closed Captioning Decoder & Video Description:  The bill would set the requirements for any apparatus designed to receive or play back video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound, if the apparatus is manufactured in the U.S. or imported for use in the U.S. and uses a picture screen.

Such devices would have to do the following:

•  Be equipped with a built-in closed caption decoder circuitry or capability designed to display closed-captioned video programming;

•  Have the capability to decode and make available the transmission and delivery of video description services as required by regulations; and

•   Have the capability to decode and make available emergency information in a manner that is accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Access to Video Programming Guides & Menus:  The bill would require on-screen text menus and guides for the display or selection of multichannel video programming to be audibly accessible upon request by individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  For navigation devices with built-in closed captioning capability, access would have to be reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating the closed captioning, or accessibility features.

Background

Congress last updated laws to provide access to communications devices by people with disabilities in 1996.  Since that time, the communications marketplace has undergone a transformation, driven by broadband, Internet-based and digital technologies.  The benefits of many of these technologies, however, are often not accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The statutes and regulations that govern access to communications and video programming for individuals with disabilities were enacted when voice communications were transmitted via traditional telephone lines, and television was broadcast using analog signals.  Current statutory provisions cover the accessibility of traditional telephone service, the compatibility of hearing aids with telephones, closed captioning for video programming transmitted by broadcast or pay television, and service on televisions with screens larger than 13 inches.

This legislation seeks to broaden the accessibility of new technologies, such as MP3 players, iPhones and digital video recorders, to individuals with disabilities.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office has not produced a score for this bill as of press time.