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Disabled Communications Tech Rule Comment Period Extended

The commission seeks to update standards for communication technologies and services used by blind and deaf individuals.

Responding to a stakeholder request for more time to file comments, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) extended the comment period on a “notice of proposed rulemaking” (NPRM) that seeks to update standards for communication technologies and services used by blind and deaf individuals.

On March 14, 2011 the FCC posted a Federal Register notice—Implementing the Provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as Enacted by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010—which seeks “to update the commission’s rules to ensure that the 54 million individuals with disabilities are able to fully utilize advanced communications services and equipment and networks used for such services.”

The original deadline for general comments on the NPRM was April 13, 2011, with the deadline for reply comments set for May 13, 2011. However, on April 4, 2011 the FCC extended those deadlines to April 25, 2011 for general comments and May 23, 2011 for reply comments.

In the FCC’s extension order, the agency says, “the American Foundation for the Blind, Consumer Electronics Association, Information Technology Industry Council and Telecommunications Industry Association filed a request” with the FCC seeking a 30-day extension of the time to file comments. The reason given is “to ensure that ‘stakeholders have adequate time to fully and carefully analyze the commission’s proposed rules’ and develop comprehensive recommendations.”

In addition, the FCC says, “extensions of time (to file comments) are not routinely granted,” but “providing a limited extension will serve the public interest by allowing parties to discuss the complex issues at stake and develop consensus approaches where possible.”

The March 14, 2011 NPRM says current regulations require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and service providers of telecommunications services to ensure that their equipment and services are accessible to, and useable by, people with disabilities, “if readily achievable.”

However, if that equipment and those services are not readily achievable, manufacturers and service providers “must ensure compatibility with existing peripheral devices or specialized” customer premises equipment (CPE)—which is any terminal and related equipment at a subscriber’s location and connected to a carrier’s telecommunication channel(s)—commonly used by individuals with disabilities, again, “if readily achievable.”

Among the internet-based, and digital technologies driven by the growth of broadband that are now pervasive and offering innovative ways to communicate and share information, electronic messaging services that provide real-time or near real-time non-voice messages in text form between individuals are among the equipment and services listed in the NPRM that the FCC is seeking comment on.

The FCC is also seeking comment on the use of “interoperable video conferencing” that “provides real-time video communications, including audio, to enable users to share information of the user’s choosing.” The NPRM says interoperable video conferencing is the same as video conferencing, but the FCC would like comment on “video relay services” (VRS)—in which deaf or hard of hearing individuals who use sign language and who communicate with a sign language interpreter over a video conferencing unit to make phone calls—to determine whether VRS systems are the same as interoperable video conferencing or video conferencing.

When submitting comments include the identification number FCC 11-37; CG Docket number 10-145 and/or CG Docket number 10-213; or WT Docket number 96-198. Comments can be submitted at paper or electronic documents. The address to submit paper comments is: FCC, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20554.

The addresses to submit electronic comments are through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at, or through the FCC’s website.