The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice initiating the first of what will be several proceedings to implement the requirements of the new 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which we wrote about earlier here and here. The Notice focuses on the "advanced communications" component of the Act, which the Act defines to include interconnected and non-interconnected VoIP services, electronic messaging service, and interoperable video conferencing service.  The Act in general directs the FCC to implement regulations to ensure that advanced communications devices and services are accessible to the disabled community, including rules related to hearing aid compatibility. 

The Notice seeks comment to interpret the following aspects of the Act:

  • New definitions for non-interconnected VoIP, electronic messaging service, and interoperable video conferencing service;
  • The meaning of the term "achievable" in the context of whether compliance by device manufacturers and service providers is "achievable";
  • Identification of third party applications, peripheral devices, software, hardware, or CPE that may be used to access the features of a device or service;
  • Whether the term "devices commonly used by persons with disabilities" means specialized equipment or mass market devices and software;
  • How to interpret the requirement that service providers may not install network features, functions or capabilities that impede accessibility to advanced communications services;
  • Performance objectives for measuring access to advanced communications services and devices;
  • What "information content" must be accessible by advanced communications services and devices; and
  • Safe harbor parameters for service providers and device manufacturers;

The Notice further seeks comment on addressing accessibility obligations for equipment that may use telecommunications (subject to Section 255) and advanced communications services (subject to new Section 716); scope of exemptions for features, equipment, or class of features or equipment; and just how far must a device or service be accessible given that the Act does not require manufacturers or providers "to make every feature and function of every device or service accessible to every disability." (Emphasis added).

Comments are due November 22, 2010.

Reply comments are due December 7, 2010.