Latest Accessibility Developments from the Federal Communications Commission

This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.

Will: Before we get started, maybe we could introduce everyone in the room because it's a small group, and I'm REALLY interested why people chose this one! I mean, it's cool, it's really cool, it's the best place to be!  Come on in!  So, this is just, this is the secretly, the coolest presentation, the coolest area of law! It goes under the radar a lot, but when you're competing against like disability in prison stuff, or there was another really good one that I thought, we need to spice up our title next year! 


Eliot: That's right, Will, I am covering prison communications.

Will: We should have had that in the headline!

Eliot: Yeah, especially the law students and lawyers are interested in that.

Will: Do you want to introduce yourself?

Danica: Yeah, my name is Danica Gonsalves. I'm the advocacy attorney with Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Will: Thank you.

Attendee: I'm Emily, with the New York City mayor's office for people with disabilities.

Will: Welcome. And you want to introduce yourself for people who --

Attendee: Sure, my name is John Thompson, I'm with HHS Office for Civil Rights, where one of our presenters, Will, used to work.

Attendee: I'm Abby Graeber, with the Congressional Research Service, and I cover disability and communications among other things for them.

Will: That's impressive! That's where the real smart lawyers go! Thank you, I tend the think the real smart lawyers are elsewhere in this room! 


Attendee: I'm Ronza Othman, I'm here at this conference in my capacity as a member of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of the Maryland Affiliate, and the National association of Blind Lawyers, which is an affinity bar under the American Bar Association, but my paid job, I work at HHS as well, and I'm the civil rights and EEO manager, so I handle all the complaints that end up in OCR!  So, but don't tell them I'm here! 

Will: All right, I think we're ready!

Josh: But you know with the FCC, we are here in our official capacity! 

Eliot: Right, we'll introduce ourselves when we speak, I think is probably the best thing, which I think I do first!  There are two different segments...  So I'm Eliot Greenwald, one of the deputy chiefs of the Disability Rights Office of the FCC. Will is the other deputy chief. And so I'd been at the FCC in this capacity for -- since the beginning of 2011. And before then, I was mostly working in law firms, and what got me involved in this, actually, is the -- I was asked to do some pro bono work for TDI, telecommunications for the Deaf and hard of hearing on some FCC matters, you know, rulemakings, and that got me very interested in the area, and then, uh, then we -- the financial crisis of 2008 hit, and I started looking for jobs, because my practice -- a combination of things -- my practice was drying up, so I needed a change, and when Congress passed the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which we lovingly call the CVAA at the FCC, there were -- they needed a couple of attorneys to help implement it. And so I had the qualifications, having done -- having become familiar with communications, disability issues. 

So, Rosaline Crawford, who had been working at the National Association of the Deaf, got the other position. And we both knew each other from the work we were doing.  So, Rosaline has since retired. I'll probably be doing that soon!  But we continue to work together in a different capacity.  So, I'm going to talk a little bit about the, first the FCC's strategic plan, and then a few other points, and then I'll turn it over to Will and Josh and it will come back to me later to talk about prison communications, we don't want to lose our audience, so we're keeping everyone in expense! 


So we rolled out a general strategic plan with six priorities, and while all of them benefit people with disabilities, I'm going to focus on two of them. One is to pursue a 100% broadband policy. Now, that's especially in light of the pandemic, which shined a light on the digital divide, the homework gap, and the consequences from being disconnected from work, education, health care, and businesses in general. 
This particularly impacts people with disabilities, who are already disadvantaged in general in all these areas. Another one is to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and by doing a deep dive into how the FCC's rules, policies, and programs may promote or inhibit advances in the DEIA space. 

And almost every rulemaking, notice of proposed rulemaking that's put out by the FCC now has questions about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in them now, which is something that was an innovation of Chairwoman Rose. So I'll name the other priorities on her plan. 
Empowering consumer choices and access to information, enhancing public safety and national security, advancing America's global competitiveness, and fostering FCC's operational excellence.  And I'm now going to discuss three specific programs supporting these priorities: The emergency connectivity fund, the affordable connectivity program, and eliminating digital discrimination.  So Congress authorized the emergency connectivity fund as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Also known as the ECF, that portion is known as the ECF, which was a 7.17 billion program that helps schools and libraries provide the tools and services their communities needed for remote learning during the COVID emergency period.  ECF provided relief to millions of students, schools, staff, and library patrons, and helped close the homework gap for students who lacked necessary internet access or the devices they needed to connect to classrooms. Waivers were given to numerous schools focused on children with disabilities so that additional funds could be obtained from the ECFS for specialized accommodations. Second, the affordable connectivity program was launched on December 31, 2021, and that was a 14 billion program, which replaced the shorter-term emergency broadband benefit program. 

Now, this program provides a discount of up to 30 dollars per month towards internet service for eligible households, and up to 75 dollars per month for households on qualifying tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to 100 dollars to purchase a laptop, desktop, computer, or tablet from participating providers, if the household contributes more than 10 and less than 50 dollars towards the purchase price. 
And then we do have a page for applications for aid,  And to sign up -- or to sign up to be an outreach partner. 
100 million is available as outreach grants, and entities of all types and diverse organizations, including organizations serving or that are owned by persons with disabilities, are eligible to participate. 

And the third one is -- one of the other two major priorities I talked about, eliminating digital discrimination. The Commission to address it on March 17, 2022, released a notice of inquiry seeking comment on the implementing Section 605.06 of the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act, which requires that the commission should take steps to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service, and prevent digital discrimination of access to broadband based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin. 

People with disabilities are not mentioned in the act, but the Commission invited comment on whether the characteristics listed are inclusive, or if the Commission's rules should also address discrimination based on other characteristics such as age, disability, or level of English proficiency.  The comment period closed on June 30, and final rules must be adopted by November of this year. 
And I'm pleased to share that the Commission's task force to prevent digital discrimination has a representative from the Disability Rights Office -- that's Darrel Cooper. Now I think it's Will's turn next to speak about particular accessibility initiatives.

Will: Yes, Eliot how many billions of dollars for the ACP program?

Eliot: I think it was... 14 billion dollars. 

Will: That's a lota billions. They're giving that away to people?

Eliot: Yeah, so the people who cannot afford internet access it get it. It's not just for people with disabilities, but it certainly benefits low-income individuals with disabilities.

Will: Yeah, geez, that's a huge program. Let me -- I have my notes on my phone. I'm not... somehow, if I had a laptop, it would not look like I was just also checking my e-mail or whatever. But I have my notes! Because these initiatives --

Josh: Yeah, I'll take a picture of you, catch you in the act! 


Will: So I have a few initiatives I want to talk about that are renewing kind of some efforts around these things. But first, I'll start off, my name is Will Shell, I'm a deputy chief at the FCC's Disability Rights Office. I focus on complaints that come into the office. The disability-related complaints for the FCC are pretty big. It's TVs and telephones and the accessibility around that. So it's closed captions, audio description, accessible telephones, just accessible advance communications services -- we'll get into a little bit of details on all of the areas that we cover. But the amount of people that want to have accessible communication is -- and accessible video programming -- is very big. 

So, Eliot had mentioned the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. It is now over 10 years old. So on April 7th, 2021, we released a public notice inviting public comment on whether any updates are needed. And it is surprising, because a decade goes by, and the pandemic moment in particular, and suddenly everything is different about how we communicate, and... goodness knows where we're going. In the future.  So that's out for public comment.  Another accessibility initiative that we've begun seeking comment on -- on proposed rules -- is to make closed-caption display settings readily accessible. So, closed captions, most of you will be familiar with.

But oftentimes, it is actually not easy to change the settings, and most -- many of the programs that you watch have the ability to make the font larger -- I know that's something that I like to do. If I need captions, they wind up taking up half of the screen. Which doesn't make for a great viewing experience, but if it's something that I actually need to read, I would need them that big. But oftentimes, you can't change the settings while you're watching a program. You sometimes can't even change the settings within the app or video program kind of service that you're using. You have to go and find a computer and change it somewhere else. And it's a pretty poor experience, and lots of people don't even know that they can change the background or opacity or font size or font types. 

So, we put that out for public comment.  And if you're unfamiliar with closed captions, which is ridiculous, because they're everywhere, they're in all public spaces now, they're on in the airports, they're just on all the time, and in fact, I think I had read that closed captions are used more by people without disabilities than by people with disabilities. So... And then also, the other initiative that I want to talk about is on April 27th, 2022, we released a public notice inviting comment to refresh the record on coverage of rules about video conferencing services. 

So right now, we have the CVAA includes accessible advance communication services. The requirement that advance communication services be accessible. That includes text messages and e-mails, or text-based communication, but it also includes interoperable video conferencing services. I'm going to put quotes around that -- "interoperable video conferencing services". So since the pandemic started -- if we can remember back just 3 years ago, we were not on Zoom every meeting! But now we are. And interoperable video conferencing services, or as I'll call it, video conferencing services, seems to be a critical way that we are communicating now, and in fact, you know, if you're going to have a serious meeting, you don't set up a phone bridge anymore, right? You set up a video conferencing service 
Anyway, it's super important.

We put out for public comment to refresh the record, to kind of raise awareness and ask the public, anything going on with this service? And our rules require that video conferencing services be accessible to people with disabilities, and we're asking the public so that we can flesh out any details.  Also, I want to draw your attention to the report to Congress that we made regarding the CVAA, on October 11, 2022, -- we have to release this -- we have to publish this report to Congress every 2 years. And it talks about our complaints a lot, in particular, the complaints about advanced communication services, and complaints about telecommunication services and equipment associated with those. 

Our report to Congress -- it comes out every 2 years, and this is our sixth report. I know everyone here loves reading federal agency reports to Congress -- I know you do at the end! Federal agency reports to Congress? Is that you? Yeah! 


Will: That's your thing. They're usually actually not detailed enough to answer the questions. Like my clients want to know -- the details of the complaints, and they're all very high-level. Well, I can summarize it for anyone who hasn't had the chance to read it. 
Essentially, progress has occurred, and it continues to occur. Progress in accessibility. For advanced communication services and telecommunication services. There's -- we identify a bunch of different ways that it has progressed. So facial gestures, being able to control wireless devices with facial gestures, and video conferencing, of course, has picked up, has gone even more accessible in the last 2 years. 
Customizing chat features. 

Screen reader support on all sorts of communication services. Multi-pinning features on video conferencing services.  Spotlighting ability. Spotlighting a sign language interpreter, or a speaker. There were -- we identified a number of specific video conferencing issues that were raised by commenters, including challenges in using automated captioning. So there's really -- I think the, you know, the survey is still out, but there is examples of automated speech recognition captioning being excellent for certain circumstances, and there's examples of it being terrible for other circumstances. 

Inaccessible chat features still come up. So the ability -- in particular with screen readers. And, you know, there's still a big problem with, if you're presenting anything or sharing your screen, and that information not being accessible to someone using a screen reader, and poor video quality is always going to be an issue. And then -- I'm sure I'm running over time! But Josh doesn't mind!

Josh: No, please take your time!!!  Wax poetic.

Will: And I'm supposed to mention the National DeafBlind Equipment Distribution Program. If you're unfamiliar with this program, it's also super important. This program, it's about 10 million dollars per year for the purpose of providing telecommunications, equipment, or telecommunications access for people who are Deaf and blind, combined -- both -- both in one. Deafblind. 
And low income. 

They can get equipment and they can get training to use that equipment, for the purpose of gaining access to the telecommunication system. That's available in all 50 states and territories, and we just certified all of the various agencies who actually do the hard work of training and distributing the equipment. And we do the hard work of handing money to those agencies and making sure they're following the rules! So, with that, I'll pass it off to Josh.

Josh: Hi, everyone, Josh Mendelsohn here. I am a Deaf attorney with the Disability Rights Office of the Federal Communications Commission, and I'm one of those line attorneys, a peon, if you will, compared to some of the giants like Eliot and Will here with me, who are both deputy chiefs! 


Which is why I'd like my part to be short and theirs to be far more detailed. But I'm going to be talking today about accessible emergency information before passing it off to my colleagues, and then back to me for the last 2 minutes or so to talk more about our stakeholder engagement efforts.  Now, for accessible emergency information and new rules, we've got two that we would like to highlight that have gone in over the course of the past year or so.  The first, you may call the rollout of the new 988, which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. And that happened approximately one year ago, it was July of last year, in fact. And the relation there is the new text to 988 development that the FCC was an integral part of establishing.

We released and adopted an order that required text providers to support text messages to 988, and in our order, we also recognized that texting can be a preferred method of communication for at-risk populations, which is also inclusive, of course, of people with disabilities. I of course also prefer texting, as will be no surprise! 


And we also implemented some deadlines for that in order to support text-to-988, which, fortunately, happened to be the same date when the voice calling was meant to be implemented to 988, which was July 16, 2022. If you need more information, there is a website about the Suicide Prevention Lifeline itself. It is We worked very closely with HHS and the VA to launch this, so I want to thank John and -- I have to scroll back in my notes -- thank you as well for all of your work from your agencies! All of you who are here. 
Second emergency related activity that the Commission has been a part of, you may know, when there is an emergency alert on television, you will hear this terrifying tone, that you're not supposed to imitate and use elsewhere according to the rule, so do not do that, or attempt it, because there's a fine associated! 


But I digress. So you hear this tone, and then you may have a person who speaks with information audibly, and at the same time, there is a text scroll that may appear on the screen. However, the text is often far shorter and more technical than what was said audibly while it was on the screen. So it's somewhat of a weird code that occurs in the beginning of that "originator", or "origination information", some weird, inscrutable information, that really does not convey the same amount of information as the people who could hear the message. 
I personally would like to know how many minutes I have left to live, for example! 


So. Last year, last September more specifically, we adopted an order to make those messages more accessible and easy to understand. And this order directed the emergency alerting system, which is under the acronym EAS, the participating radio broadcasters, television broadcasters, and other operators of satellite, cable, and wire-line video services, all of these entities, to transmit messages in IP-based formats rather than this legacy EAS format. The IP is able to convey far more information in a lot more user-friendly format and technology. I don't mean friendly as in "hi there, Mr. Rogers!

And also, as I said, the order requires entities to replace that technical jargon with more plain language. That's a better term than friendly, as I used earlier! (Laughter.)  And that will be more easily understood by the public, and provide more accurate information for those individuals who can't access the auditory message, like how many minutes you have remaining to live.

Ronza:  I have a question about that. I have the opposite problem, where the crawl is only visual, I have no idea how long I have to live. 
So I know at one point, there were conversations about providing the information in multiple formats. But what's the status of that effort?

Josh: Yeah, you're right, and I don't know specifically about that.

Eliot: You want to talk it, Will?

Will: Yeah, so the short version of that is, so what Josh is talking about is national emergency, which has never actually happened. We have never actually set off the national emergency alert system. We have tested it multiple times. They kind of ride along the same -- they seem somewhat similar. What you're talking about is a localized emergency, and those will be, are required to be accessible audibly read out at least twice on the secondary audio channel. 

So it is a bit of a hassle, that if you're not on the secondary audio, you do have to switch. That's why we do also have rules that require any set-top box or TV who's receiving, you know, this stuff, to be able to have a quick and easy access to switch from one to the other. And it may not be evident how to do it...

Ronza: Mm. You can tell by the look on my face, I don't like it. 


Eliot: The secondary channel is the same one that has audio description on it.

Ronza: Yeah, but my news don't have audio description on it or whatever. So I have to go find my remote control -- I don't even know where it is --

Will: Right.

Ronza: And I have to figure out how to get to the secondary audio, which is the same one that does the Spanish translation, right?

Will: Yes.

Ronza: What about Spanish? What about the LEP population? This doesn't feel like the right solution, it feels like the lazy one.

Will: It's way out of date. So there's a new broadcast standard coming, excitingly titled ASTC 3.0.

Josh: ATSC!

Will: Yes, ATSC3.0. And I understand that in a month -- and that is only now just starting. So only now can you find TVs that have the proper receivers, and stations are not broadcasting on that, and cable is not passing that standard through quite yet. But the word is that they will have multiple audio available, so Spanish will have its own Spanish audio. Audio description will have its own. And even better than that, you can auto-change -- it will be much more like using a computer, so that if there is something like emergency information, it will automatically be able to switch it to the proper audio so that you can hear the accessible emergency information.

Ronza: Okay.

Will: So it's in the future, but I mean, you know, baby steps...

Ronza: So someone come get me so I know when I'm gonna die. 


Eliot: Yeah, this is Eliot. I'll add that there are still challenges that have to be overcome technically, because particularly the satellite delivery systems have limited bandwidth. And, you know, you have terrestrial ones that have some limitations, but not the way that satellites do. 
So every time you're adding another audio stream, you're using up bandwidth. So, you know, so we're going to have to resolve those issues as we move along in this.

Ronza: Thank you.

Josh: And now, that closes my portion, at least for now, and I'll pass it back over to Eliot!

Eliot: Okay, well, as promised, and as I kept you in suspense, I'm going to get to prison communications! So on September 30th, the FCC released a fourth report in order, and sixth further notice of proposed rulemaking to improve access to communications for incarcerated people with disabilities. So the report in order required providers of prison  communications to provide access to all available communications -- relay, TRS funds support, as well as American Sign Language point to point video communication, in any correctional facility where broadband is available in a jurisdiction where, with an average daily population of 50 or more incarcerated persons for the jurisdiction. 

So it's not measured -- the number 50 is not measured by the population of a facility, but by the population of the entire system. 
And so the exception is really things like small city and small county jails that, you know,... so that -- and actually, I'll get to more on that in a second. And then it clarified and expanded the scope of the restrictions on inmate calling services providers assessing charges for telecommunications relay service calls. Certain ones are required, you know, under these rules, will be required to be no-charge. Other ones will be, it charges no greater than what a voice call would cost. 

And then expanded the scope of -- and the FCC does have a lot of rules regarding limitations on charges for voice calls.  And then expanded the scope of the required inmate calling service providers' annual reports to reflect those changes, and modified the TRS user registration requirements to facilitate use of TRS by eligible incarcerated persons.  And then the further notice asked some more questions which couldn't be resolved in that proceeding. One is whether to allow something which we call enterprise registration for internet protocol caption telephone service, known as IPCTS, in correctional facilities so that inmates can use, you know, shared devices without having to log in. 

Whether to adopt the FCC's proposal to extend inmate calling services providers for the various relay services and ASL direct communications, where broadband is available, and then for plain caption telephone services, internet protocol, where broadband is not available, with average daily populations of fewer than 50 incarcerated persons. So we're asking for further information to find out whether we can expand this to everybody in every prison and jail. And whether charges for any inmate calling services for incarcerated people with disabilities should be disclosed in  accessible formats. Because that question just wasn't asked in the NPRM -- the earlier NPRM. Then comments were due in December, and reply comments were just due earlier this month on March 3rd. 

And so we hopefully will be getting to this later, you know, the report in order later this year. It's one of the -- carceral communications is one of the Chair's priority matters that she wants to address during her tenure. And then on the March 17th of this year we had another item where the Commission released a notice of proposed rulemaking to begin implementing the Martha Wright Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022, which was adopted by Congress at the tail end of '22, and expanded the scope of the FCC's authority to regulate inmate calling services. And I'll just mention, you know, who Martha Wright Reed is. She was a grandmother -- she passed away within the last few years -- whose grandson was in a far-away correctional facility, and all she wanted to do was be able to make phone calls to him, but unfortunately, at that time, that was before the FCC did any regulation of rates for carceral facilities.

Rates were rather exorbitant, and she was on limited income, and it was therefore costing her a lot of money, you know, on a limited budget, to be able to just talk to her grandson once a week. So she started an effort, which became a movement! For the FCC to regulate these phone rates. So that's why this act is named after her.  And so -- and one of the problems that the FCC has had is a number of other things that the Commission has done in the past have been stricken down by the Court of Appeals as acting outside of the scope of the Commission's authority. So what this act does is expands the Commission's authority to specifically allow the FCC to regulate intrastate communications, communications within the state, to regulate those rates. Because traditionally the FCC does not have that authority for carceral communications. 

And also, expanded the definition of advanced communication services under Part 14. Those are incorporated in Part 14 of the Commission's rules, which basically implement the statute, CVAA. So, -- to further make sure that the carceral communications are covered under the FCC's jurisdiction. So, the Commission asked a whole bunch of questions. I'm not going to go into the rate questions, but what specific rule changes to Part 64, subpart ff, which governs inmate calling services, or new rules which are necessary to effectuate the act? And whether to amend Part 14 that I just mentioned, of the rules governing advanced communication services, what amendments are needed. 

And just to mention what advanced communication services are, which Will has mentioned before, those include interconnected voice over internet protocol, non-interconnected voice over internet protocol, electronic messaging such as text and e-mail and also some other electronic message -- you know, similar type services. And interoperable video conferencing services, which were mentioned before. 
And comment period, and comments will be due 30 days, and reply comments 60 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register. I'm now going to turn the floor back to Josh to continue on to discuss stakeholder engagement.

Josh: Did we have a question?

Attendee: Yeah, can I ask a question?

Eliot: Oh, yeah, oh, sure. In regards to regulating the costs of the calls, do you folks also regulate the cost to a prisoner for e-mail access?

Eliot: No. We have -- the Commission has not done that. But it actually can now, because the -- because of the expansion of the CVAA. But actually, with the e-mail access, you're talking more about the internet access?

Attendee: Well, so now -- I'm from Florida, we've got a big -- we've had big litigation going on for a long time, along with many other states, and for the Deaf inmates, or many inmates, you know, they get the tablets now, and they can do the movies on the tablet all of those things.

Eliot: Right. So they get charged for use of the e-mail, if they want to e-mail their family, once they get people on an approved list. And JPay and the rest of them are very expensive. I want to know, do you folks regulate what can be charged to a Deaf inmate if they choose to send an e-mail in lieu of a phone call?

Eliot: Right. That has not been brought up to the Commission, but that is something that under the new Martha Wright Reed act, we would have authority to do. So I would say, you know, the best way to kickstart that would be to file a petition for rulemaking on that particular issue.

Attendee: Okay. Second question, in regards to those same tablets, the prisons make available to the Deaf inmates movies. Many of them are not captioned, or falsely identified as being captioned. Then the prisoner downloads the movie, pays for the movie, and then they can't watch the movie. Do you folks do regulation on what type of movies that the prisoners can see and whether or not -- I mean, whether or not those movies must be captioned?

Eliot: We haven't done anything specifically for prisons. But under our rules for -- and we normally don't -- we normally don't have jurisdiction to regulate something that's not... that would be in a closed system. But in this case, there might be a hook for our authority, because if it's delivered via internet protocol, and that's being used as part of the delivery, that's our hook. Because under that, we do have a rule, not specifically for prisons, but for anything that's delivered via IP, that they have to be... that those would have to have captioning.

Will: We have done this in prisons. We've successfully enforced those rules in prisons, at least in Wisconsin. And I'll just put it this way, that not everyone was very happy with us enforcing the rules, because the rules that we have is that if it is aired on TV in the past with captions, then it must have captions in this -- on the IP-delivered service.  One of the ways that the tablet management company decided to resolve this -- because they had a number of restrictions about how many movies they could actually put onto the system at any given time. Apparently it's a very slow system to prevent things getting out of hand or something.

So they removed all of the movies that did not have captions. And that complies with our rules.  So people were not happy with it, because I think about half the movies that were available for all of the prisons were removed because they didn't have captions. But they said that they were going to add them back, and it takes a long time... so, yes... (chuckling) we can -- it is hard to find out what the companies who actually do the management of those systems are. So that actually took a long time to actually figure out what this company is who actually does the tablet management service for the prison.

Attendee: Would you recommend that people file a complaint with you? Would that be the first thing? And that could get you folks rolling on looking into it?

Will: Definitely.

Josh: Would you share your name and your position?

Attendee: My name is Sharon Caserta, and I work for Morgan and Morgan. We have a Deaf Disability Rights unit, and I'm based out of Florida. We have a large pending suit against the prison system in Florida. And when Josh is done, I have one other question once everybody else has asked too. So I believe you said that the Martha Wright Reed Act would apply to in-state phone calls?

Eliot: Right.

Attendee: Are you worried that a state is going to bring a lawsuit against the FCC because you're stepping outside of your regulatory jurisdiction?

Eliot: No, because Congress specifically gave the FCC that authority. And under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, you know, the federal law prevails.

Will: And Eliot, it would probably be the phone companies that come after us rather than the state, if they could. Because they want the 5 dollars a minute or whatever. So they would say we overstepped.

Eliot: Right. Right. The prison phone companies argue that it costs them a lot to put in these security systems, and that's why -- 
(Laughter.) They can charge these exorbitant amounts!  But they are actually coming around, because I think they realize they have to live with the regulations now. So they are actually becoming more cooperative.

Attendee: I'm just thinking of all the many lawsuits that are currently being brought against federal agencies, saying -- like even though it was implemented, might have been implemented for years, they're saying that the agency is overstepping their jurisdiction.

Eliot: Right. Well, in this case, it's a new statute that Congress just adopted, where the -- where it was adopted specifically to counter all those lawsuits that people had been winning, claiming we didn't have the jurisdiction. But you're right. In recent years, as with the change in the federal courts, you know, federal agencies on the whole have been given less deference. Chevron is whittled away -- you know, the Chevron deference standard has been whittled away, and there's a strict er reading of a lot of the statutes. But here, we have a very specific statute addressing it. So it's... it's very good that Congress was able to get that through in the lame-duck session.

Attendee:... still might be a possibility! But just wondering if you were expecting it.

Josh: I'd like to back up to Ronza's question about audio description or audio messages. I want to highlight that earlier this month, the FCC gave approval to expand audio description requirements. Right now, we only require audio description to be provided in the top 50, and soon to be 100, designated market areas, or DMAs, as they're called. And we're in a nation that has 210 DMAs, or designated market areas, which you consider to be the DC-Metro area, right, as opposed to Baltimore. I don't know whether those two are lumped in together in particular, but there's of course New York amongst others. 

So, yeah, I think Baltimore and Washington are separate. But, so, we adopted a further -- sorry, a notice of rulemaking which would -- which discusses expanding those audio description requirements into additional DMAs in a phased rollout basis. I think it's like 10 -- let me look... 10 additional DMAs each year, over time, until we cover the entire 210 DMAs. This was just approved earlier this month. In fact, I think it was published already, Will, wasn't it?  

Will: Yeah, I think so.

Attendee: I'm sorry, I missed -- and this is for audio description on what services?

Will: Video programming services for the top 4 broadcast networks, and the top 5 cable channels.

Attendee: Okay.

Ronza: But it's a certain number of hours.

Will: Right. It's 87 and a half hours. Right.

Eliot: Unfortunately, the statute is very restrictive as to what we can require. And so, actually, the reason you may be wondering why we're only doing 10 a year and it's going to take another 12 years to get this done... it's because the statute said that the Commission can expand it by up to 10 a year (chuckling)! And so basically, this is -- and, you know, it was originally 60, and then when the statute permitted us to do it, at that time, the Commission only wanted to do an additional, I guess, 40 markets. But now, you know, the Chairwoman has said, let's get the job done in order to get this notice of proposed rulemaking done. So once the comments come in, and I'm sure this is -- you know, this is one of the other... this is a priority for the Chairwoman, so I'm sure we'll get the report in order out during her tenure so we can complete the job.

Ronza: Thank you.

Josh: On that note, Eliot noticed the noticed of propose the rulemaking, comment periods, and so forth, which is one of the key methods by which we engage with stakeholders, with people outside of the FCC, like all of yourselves. And I've only been with the FCC for less than 2 years, but one thing I have noticed in my time here is that the agency builds everything on top of previous work and on top of new laws, on top of comments that have been received from the public, from yourselves, that are based on evidence, and a record with statements of how and where a given action would have an impact, and what it looks like in the real world. So things are being stacked together to build the rulemakings. 

We have what we call ECFS -- this is our Electronic Comment Filing System. It is a very key tool by which we hear from you. Basically, we will release these notices of proposed rulemaking on a topic, for example, can we expand audio description by 10 DMAs per year, and how much would that cost to the broadcast stations, or, you know, what benefit that would represent to people who are blind or have low vision? What mechanisms? 

We ask all of those questions in that release, and then we give maybe 30 days for people to -- people or organizations -- to file their comments on those topics. It could be one page. It could be a paragraph. It could be 90 pages, although please I encourage you NOT to submit 90 pages!  And we then read all of those comments as they come in, create summaries, work to incorporate those into whatever the next phase of our work is. For example, an order that may come out in which we will say "we are determining in this order that, yes" -- for example -- "we will expand by an additional 10 DMAs by... and this is supported by... and Morgan and Morgan stated this on the record --" 


And this is opposed by -- uh... HHS! 


HHS opposes, right? But we disagree with HHS. The agency disagrees, and we adopt Morgan and Morgan's position that... so on and so forth. So it's a VERY key method by which we work to build on top of what we do, step by step. Another mechanism that we have, and I see our time is up!!! But we have a number of other mechanisms, like our Disability Advisory Committee that we refer to as the DAC. We also have an Access Info List, which is the title of our e-mail distribution list for disability-related announcements. Of course, it's fascinating!!! 
All these very fascinating topics! It's very plain language, what goes out there. But it is certainly valuable information, and I would encourage all of you to subscribe to our Access Info Listserv. It's [email protected].

Attendee: And we just send an e-mail requesting to be added to the list?

Josh: Yes, please.

Eliot: All you have to do is type the word "subscribe" into the subject or the body, and that will get you the subscription.

Josh: We have a number of other mechanisms as well, but I won't go into them at this point.

Ronza: Well, thank you! 


Josh: And thank you everyone for your patience, for putting up with us!

Eliot: Yes, it was nice to meet everybody! Thank you for coming to our little panel!