Bill Would Give FCC More Authority to Vet Accessibility

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Washington -- A draft of a new version of HR 3101 would
appear to give the Federal Communications Commission more flexibility to
determine how cable operators and TV stations would meet a new congressional
mandate that requirements for disability access to telecommunications be
updated to reflect the rise of broadband and other technologies.

In the previous version of the bill, which was subject to a
heated hearing featuring various stakeholders, the FCC must require various
phone, TV and online accessibility measures, including making mobile devices
accessible, unless it would result in an "undue burden."

According to the draft of the new bill, which is being
marked up Wednesday, "undue burden" has been changed to the stricter
"not achievable." That is defined as "with reasonable effort or
expense."

The FCC would be tasked with determining whether that standard
had been met, based on the nature and cost, the impact on the manufacturer and
distributor and the deployment of new technologies, the manufacturers financial
resources, and "the type of operations of the manufacturer or
provider."

That standard was described by an industry veteran as a
midpoint between a "not readily achievable" standard and an "undue
burden."

The FCC will also have the ability to waive the requirement
on its own authority or in response to a waiver request.

The cable industry has said it supports the spirit of the
bill -- and even the letter of it, with some tweaks -- including a phase-in
period for some of the requirements.

Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro has
major problems with the bill, which he outlined at the June 9 hearing. He said
the measure as drafted deters innovation because of overbroad mandates that
require every device to be accessible to all people with disabilities.

"We are continuing to work constructively
with the committee staff and are hopeful there will be a successful outcome to
the discussions," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman
Dennis Wharton.

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