As summer begins to wind down, the FCC will begin considering whether to revise or eliminate decade-old regulations, including certain rules related to the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), equipment authorization procedures, and disabilities access. The FCC kicked off its review with a Public Notice under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires federal agencies to reexamine regulations within 10 years of their adoption to assess the continued need for the rules, the rules’ complexity, and whether the rules overlap or conflict with other federal regulations. The purpose of the review is to ensure that older, unnecessary rules do not remain on the books, lowering the compliance burden for smaller businesses. Although the FCC rarely eliminates a rule outright as part of this review, the comments received can help the agency identify improvements for future rulemakings or flag potential compliance issues.
In a move affecting nearly every type of dispute brought to the agency, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) at its July meeting establishing a streamlined set of formal complaint rules. The new rules cover complaints against common carriers, pole attachment complaints, and complaints involving accessibility for people with disabilities. The revised procedures impose a uniform deadline for answering complaints, eliminate a number of procedural requirements, expand the discovery process, and establish a “shot clock” for FCC decisions. The reforms aim to lower the overall burden on complainants, potentially opening the door to the resolution of more disputes with the FCC instead of in court or elsewhere.
On July 13, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at improving the reliability of the nation’s Emergency Alert System (“EAS”). This action comes six months after a well-publicized false ballistic missile alert that caused widespread confusion and concern in Hawaii, which the FCC observed “underscore[d] the need to streamline [its] testing processes and to ensure proper safeguards are in place.” The FCC explained that the rule changes “will help alert initiators, as well as EAS Participants to develop the skills necessary to effectively use the EAS.” EAS Participants are radio and television broadcast stations, cable systems, wireline video systems, wireless cable systems, direct broadcast satellite service providers, and digital audio radio service providers. In an unusual move, Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly dissented in part from the item, citing concerns about “alert fatigue” and suggesting that the Commission may be “overstepping” its bounds by requiring communications providers to provide false alert reports.
The Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) recently released a Public Notice seeking comment on a petition filed by the Entertainment Software Association (“ESA”) seeking a one year final extension of its class waiver from the FCC’s accessibility requirements (“Petition”). Specifically, ESA seeks waiver from the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act’s (“CVAA”) requirement that advanced communications services (“ACS”), like voice and text communications, built into video game software be made accessible for people with disabilities. Comments on the Petition are due by December 1, 2017.
At the Federal Communication Commission’s (Commission’s) monthly meeting on October 24, 2017, the Commissioners approved a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (Order) updating Commission rules regarding hearing aid compatibility (HAC). Specifically, the Order adopts a new wireline HAC volume control standard, applies the wireline HAC standards to handsets used for advanced communications services (ACS) like interconnected and non-interconnected VoIP, and adopts a volume control requirement for wireless handsets. The wireless device volume control requirement is the most controversial and drew dissents from both of the Chairman’s fellow Republicans, despite the three year runway for compliance. Continue Reading October 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Establishes Volume Control Standards for Wireline, ACS and Wireless Handsets
The Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) voted unanimously at its Open Meeting on September 27, 2017 to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that proposes exempting certain types of wireless providers from the hearing aid compatibility (“HAC”) reporting requirements. The NPRM outlines possible revisions to the wireless HAC rules that would “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, particularly for non-nationwide service providers.” The reporting requirements currently apply to facilities-based and reseller wireless service providers of all sizes and this rulemaking represents a prime opportunity for smaller wireless carriers to remove some burdensome reporting obligations, which have led to enforcement actions in the past. Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 45 days after publication.
In advance of its July Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) unanimously adopted a Report and Order (Order) that revises the rules requiring certain video programming providers to make video described programming available for access by Americans who are blind or visually impaired. The new rules expand the Commission’s existing requirements by increasing the required amount of video described programming while affording providers more flexibility about the type of programming that can be used to meet the requirement.
Video descriptions make video programming accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by aurally describing a program’s key visual elements during pauses in the program’s dialogue. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) authorizes the Commission to require video programming providers to provide video descriptions for programming that is “transmitted for display on television in digital format.” In 2012, the Commission adopted video description obligations for video programming distributors defined as “any television broadcast station licensed by the Commission and any multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD), and any other distributor of video programming for residential reception that delivers such programming directly to the home and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.”
Under the current rules, commercial broadcast television stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC that are located in the top 60 television markets, as identified by the Nielsen Company, are required to offer 50 hours per calendar quarter of video descriptions during prime time or on children’s programming. MVPD systems must provide this same type and amount of described programming for each of the top five national non-broadcast networks that they carry. The non-broadcast networks currently subject to the rules are USA, TNT, TBS, History, and Disney. Prime time is defined as the period from 8-11 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 7-11 p.m. on Sunday.
The CVAA also provides for continuing Commission authority to reassess whether additional regulations are needed after at least two years since its last rules if it finds that the need and benefits outweigh any technical and economic costs. In the Order, the Commission found that the benefits of new rules outweigh the costs, which it described as “minimal and represent[ing] a very small percentage of total programming expenses and network revenues.” The new rules increase the required amount of video described programming that programming distributors must offer on each stream or channel where they carry the included networks from 50 to 87.5 hours per quarter beginning in January 2018.
In addition, the Order affords distributors more flexibility in meeting the description requirements regarding when the additional hours of described programming may be aired. Programming distributors can now include video descriptions for any programming that occurs between 6 A.M. and midnight, which is broader in scope than prime time and children’s programming. However, the rule still requires that at least 50 hours of described programming consist of prime time and children’s programming.
On March 16, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau (Bureau) released a Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order) addressing Honda Motor Co., Ltd’s (Honda) January 2017 petition for limited waiver of video accessibility rules for its in-vehicle rear entertainment systems. The Bureau granted Honda’s 20-month waiver request with the condition that Honda provide status update reports.
On Monday, May 23, 2016, the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau (CGB or Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released a Public Notice seeking comment on the state of compliance with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) and the FCC regulations implementing the law. The comments will be used to prepare the third biennial report to Congress on CVAA compliance. The report will assess compliance by telecommunications carriers, VoIP providers, providers of advance communications services (ACS) and manufacturers of equipment for such services, including mobile phones. More specifically, the Commission seeks comment from interested parties on whether the services and devices covered are “accessible,” the degree to which manufacturers and providers are including people with disabilities in product design and market research, and the extent to which entities are working with disability-related organizations, among other questions. The report will also include the extent to which accessibility barriers remain with respect to new communication technologies and the impact of the recordkeeping and enforcement provisions on the development and deployment of new communications technologies.
Comments are due to the Bureau by June 22, 2016. The Commission will use these comments to inform tentative findings, which will then be open for another round of public comment. The report to Congress is due by October 8, 2016. Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comment on Accessibility Compliance for the 2016 Biennial CVAA Report
Late last week, the FCC released a Second Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking imposing additional emergency alert accessibility obligations on both device manufacturers and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). The new requirements are designed to make access to emergency information easier for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The initial obligations will be effective at the end of 2016, and comments will be due on the FNPRM 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.