The FCC has commenced a proceeding to facilitate the use of spectrum for wireless backhaul and other point-to-point and point-to-multipoint communications, increasing the efficient use of spectrum for backhaul, and providing for the more flexible use of microwave frequencies to promote the deployment of wireless broadband and other services.

In an NPRM, the Commission seeks comment on proposals to increase the utilization and provision of increasing flexibility in microwave spectrum. The NOI component of the proceeding seeks more generally comments on other proposals for more cost-effective and intensive use of microwave spectrum.

Initial comments will be due 60 days from publication in the Federal Register; reply comments will be due 90 days from publication. More detailed analysis of this proceeding will be posted shortly. The FCC has also commenced a proceeding related to its Hearing-Aid Compatibility rules. As we noted earlier, this proceeding foreshadows the impending passage of new federal legislation designed promote access to advanced communications, including Internet video, by the disabled community, discussed below. 

The Commissions has issued a Policy Statement basically declaring that people with hearing aids and cochlear implants should have access to advanced technologies, including modern smartphones. In a Second Report and Order, the Commission clarified a number of issues related to its hearing aid compatibility rules, including that the rules apply to devices that have built-in speakers designed to be held to the ear; requiring disclosure of information about multi-band and multi-mode phones that operate in part over bands or modes for which technical standards have not been established; and amending the rules requiring manufacturers to deploy hearing-aid compatible handsets to apply to handsets sold through all distribution channels, not only through service providers.

Finally, in an NPRM, the Commission seeks comment regarding customer equipment used to provide wireless communications over any type of network; a requirement for some or all retail outlets to offer consumers in-store testing of hearing-aid compatible devices; and user-controlled reduction of power to meet standards for operations over legacy GSM interfaces in the 1900 MHz band. The Commission also noted that it intends to initiate a comprehensive review of its wireless hearing aid compatibility rules later this year. 

Initial comments will be due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register; reply comments will be due 75 days after publication. The Hearing Aid Compatibility proceeding is especially significant given the recent passage of House and Senate accessibility legislation. As noted earlier, House Bill 3101, Rep. Markey's "Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009" was adopted by the House and received in the Senate on July 27, 2010. More recently, on August 5, it was read twice and placed on the Senate legislative calendar for consideration. 

At the same time, Sen. Pryor's companion bill (S. 3304), which we first mentioned here and here, was replaced by a substitute version proposed by Sen. Reid on August 5. That version was agreed to and passed by the Senate by unanimous consent that same day. With the House Bill now on the Senate's calendar, and the Senate having passed its version of the bill, passage of new accessibility legislation is expected very shortly. As previously explained in detail, the new legislation is expected to update the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring advanced services and devices to be ADA-compliant, including Internet videos and mobile devices, and will reinstate the FCC's video description rules.

Accordingly, this legislation, when passed, will have a significant impact on manufacturers, content providers, and programming distributors, to name a few. As soon as Congress passes the legislation, we will provide an in-depth look at what changes the legislation will make to the Communications Act and the FCC's ADA rules, among others.For additional information about the legislation, please contact Maria Browne or Brian Hurh.