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Commissioner Copps Grateful for Lifetime Achievement Award

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Released: June 17, 2011

REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS ON RECEIVING THE PRESIDENT'S AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT HEARING LOSS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA CONVENTION

JUNE 16, 2011

REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS

ON RECEIVING THE PRESIDENT'S AWARD FOR LIFETIME

ACHIEVEMENT

HEARING LOSS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA CONVENTION

JUNE 16, 2011

Thank you so much for your kind reception and for this wonderful--and I must
say moving--Award. You know, working alongside Brenda Battat, Lise Hamlin, Cheryl
Heppner and so many, many others in this audience over the years has been honor
enough for me, so I certainly didn't expect any further recognition. But I have to say--it
sure feels good. I am deeply grateful, and I thank you for making my day...and my week
and month, too! Working with this community has been for me the most inspiring and
rewarding part of my time at the Commission, and I thank every member of this
wonderful association for teaching me about the many challenges confronted by our deaf
and hard-of-hearing communities and, more importantly, helping awaken the country to
the opportunities we have to apply the wonders of new technologies to help overcome
these challenges.
Accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing should not be an issue just for the
group that is assembled at this conference--it matters to all of us because nearly one in
five Americans has some degree of hearing loss. These are effects that touch every family
and every community, whether it is your aging parent becoming a late-deafened
individual, a son or daughter in uniform coming home with injuries incurred in the wars
in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a child wanting nothing more than the chance to be a fully-
contributing member of society.
Back when I joined the Commission ten years ago, we were just at the dawn of
the Twenty-first Century --talking about the potential of advanced communications
services and technologies to change our lives for the better but still only on the cusp of
actually experiencing their transformative power. Today most of us have seen that power
first-hand, many of us have grown to depend upon these amazing services and
technologies, and we understand that access to broadband--both fixed and mobile--is
vitally important to our lives. It's important to our lives as individuals because the door
to opportunity is increasingly online. That is where companies recruit and where jobs are
found. It's important to our health in an age where telemedicine is beginning to play
such a transformative role in how we care for ourselves. It's important to how we
educate ourselves and our kids for the hyper-competitive world in which we all live.
There is hardly a facet of our lives that will be untouched by broadband and the Internet.
It will help us decrease, for example, our costly dependence on foreign fuels. It will help
us put the brakes on the degradation of our environment. It will, I hope, bring us better
news and information and a more robust civic dialogue. So we just have to grab onto
these new tools and put them to work for ourselves and our kids and grandkids who are
growing up in such a different world from the one into which many of us were born. The
bottom line is this: participation in our economy, our society, and even our democracy
requires high speed Internet access.
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All of us benefit when more of us are connected. Universal adoption means just
that--everyone, no matter who they are, where they live, or the particular circumstances
of their individual lives, needs to be connected. To me, this access to high-speed, high-
value broadband is a defining right of the Twenty-first century. I say let's treat it as a
civil right--because that's how it should be seen. If we don't do this, the differences that
already divide America will actually grow and that Digital Divide we thought we were
getting rid of could actually become deeper and wider in the years ahead. What a lost
opportunity, what a tragedy, that would be--to have within our grasp the most dynamic,
liberating and opportunity-creating information technology of all time--and let it fall
short of its potential to open doors for every American.
An important part of our job at the FCC is to help ensure Americans with
disabilities have access to functionally equivalent communications services. Before I go
on, I've got to tell you that that term "functionally equivalent" doesn't begin to convey
the importance of what we are talking about. It's so antiseptic. Maybe that's why the
phrase is used in the law. I don't know, and it is hugely important, but I just want
everyone in this country to know that what it really means is the ability of those with
disability challenges to enjoy equal opportunities to lead individually and socially
productive lives, to communicate using the latest products and services, to have an equal
shot at getting a good job, pursuing an education, enjoying good health and, especially in
this dangerous age, surviving natural disasters, man-made terror attacks and other
threatening emergencies. "Functionally equivalent" is about as heart-warming a term as
"network neutrality." Actually, both network neutrality and functional equivalence are
about equal opportunity. I just believe that people get more involved and excited about
good causes when they are creatively named. But I digress. The important thing, of
course, is that there are people like you working to bring the idea to life.
I was honored to be in the White House to watch President Obama sign the
Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act into law last
October. Thanks to your tireless advocacy and to true champions on Capitol Hill
including Congressman Ed Markey, Congressman Henry Waxman, Senator Jay
Rockefeller, Senator Mark Pryor and numerous others, this sweeping piece of
communications and civil rights legislation is now the law of the land, and I can tell you
this: it is going to make a huge difference. The new law instructs the FCC to take prompt
and far-reaching actions to expand opportunity for persons with disabilities. I am happy
to report the FCC is hard at work implementing the mandates of this historic legislation.
Allow me to share with you just some of the areas where we've already started
moving forward:
Two months ago, we announced the creation of a two-year pilot program to get the
Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program up-and-running. The Twenty-first
Century Accessibility Act allocated $10 million annually from the TRS fund for this
nationwide effort. The goal here is to make communications technologies and
services accessible to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind.
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The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the express
mandate of Congress to reinstate and modify the video description rules that were
originally adopted by the Commission in 2000. Making information that is conveyed
visually to the viewing audience accessible to the blind and visually-impaired can be
the difference between life and death. Some broadcasters have been providing this
service on their own accord since the Commission's rules got hung up by the courts
before the new law was passed, and I salute those who have done so for their
leadership. The requirements of the new law will greatly expand the amount of
programming that is video-described. The Commission must take action to reinstate
video description rules before the end of the year to meet Congress' deadline.
Sometimes a Congressionally-mandated deadline can be a great tonic!

We are also addressing hearing aid compatibility requirements for wireless phones
and service. Even before the Twenty-first Century Accessibility Act was signed into
law, the Commission was already looking at these issues, and now we have issued
proposed rules and several Public Notices aimed at encouraging greater accessibility
of wireless phones for people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Two advisory committees have been set up by the new law--the Video Programming
Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Emergency Access Advisory
Committee--and they have been meeting regularly and working toward issuing
recommendations for FCC action:
o The Emergency Access Advisory Committee, for its part, has already
completed a national survey of persons with disabilities regarding emergency
calling. We look forward to its recommendations about what policies and
practices we can put in place to achieve equal access to emergency services
for individuals with disabilities as we migrate to Next Generation 911 that will
be capable of receiving emergency calls via text and video as well as voice.
o The Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee is developing
recommendations on a host of critical issues central to the new law: closed
captioning of Internet programming previously captioned on television; video
description of television programming; accessible emergency information for
people with vision disabilities; compatibility of accessibility features and new
video programming devices; and accessible user interfaces on video
programming devices.
I know many of you here today were instrumental in getting this legislation
passed in the first place. You did a great job! Now that the action has shifted over to the
FCC, you are bringing your talents to the advisory Committees and have already given us
valuable comment on our proposed rules. I urge you as strongly as I can to keep it
coming because successful implementation of the new law requires that we have the best
possible advice from you. This kind of cooperation is important regarding this particular
law, but it is also important for all the things we can do together in the years ahead. I
remember what my old boss, Senator Fritz Hollings, often said: decisions made without
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you are usually decisions against you. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have
seen the truth of that during my years in this town!
As great as any of our achievements has been bringing one of my heroes--Karen
Peltz-Strauss--back to the Commission. Karen had been at the Commission before, as
most of you know, and one of the first recommendations I made to new Chairman
Genachowski when he came aboard was to find a way to lure Karen back. He did it, and
he gave her the charge and the running room to really make a difference. You know how
I approach the whole broad array of disabilities issues? Whenever something comes up, I
ask my staff: "What does Karen think about this?" And if it's OK with Karen, you can
pretty much make book that it's going to fly with me, too. What a difference she is
making--for the Commission, but, more importantly, for you. With Joel Gurin, who runs
our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, and Greg Hlibok and Cheryl King the
rest of the incredible team we have in Disability Rights, the Commission is being
proactive and productive as never before. Let's have Karen and all the FCC Team here
today stand and let's give them a round of applause and let them know how much they
are truly appreciated!
Karen and Joel and I are great believers in outreach--outreach to you, outreach to
all the folks who don't have those flotillas of lobbyists and lawyers to win hearts and
minds--or at least votes--at the FCC. We are trying to open our doors to the full
panoply of American stakeholders, so that the Commission can hear directly from real
people in real communities who are the overwhelming majority of folks who must live
with the consequences of what we do in Washington. There will always be more work to
be done on this outreach score, but I believe our current Commission under Chairman
Genachowski has made important strides in this area, and I'm excited to see the level of
collaboration we are engaging in with the disabilities communities.
We need to hear from you not just on the items related to implementation of the
Twenty-first Century Act, but to sustain a dialogue across the whole wide range of
telecommunications and media issues before the FCC. So much of our overall agenda
affects you, sometimes issues that at first glance may not seem that important to you. For
example, in the coming months, the Commission is going to be very focused on reform of
our Universal Service Program. That's where Lifeline and Link-Up are and they're really
important to you. As the Commission works to reorient Universal Service from a
program supporting not just voice, but broadband too, we need your best thinking on how
to make it happen.
We also need your valuable input as the Commission works to strengthen the
VRS program. This program has been a critical communications link for the deaf and
hard of hearing and we cannot allow abuses that we know exist in the program to threaten
its long-term viability. The Commission has made some tough decisions and has more
on its plate. I am committed to moving forward with reform of the program in a way that
protects the interests of consumers who rely on VRS every day to reach their colleagues,
friends, and loved ones.
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It is not only at the national level where your advocacy is needed. State and local
governments are making decisions with major consequences for the disabilities
communities. As statehouses and City Halls across the country grapple with harsh budget
realities, I know that programs that serve the disabilities communities are often first on
the chopping block. Some advocates recently shared with me their concerns about state
level action that is harming state relay funds. It's important that your organizations, and
you personally, focus on educating your state and local leaders. The hard reality is that
what you win on one level can be quickly undone at another--and we just can't let that
happen here.
You need to be interested in the media issues being discussed at the Commission,
too. The developing national conversation about the future of our media must include
Americans with disabilities, people who need access to their local news to be fully
participating members of our communities--and who sometimes need it to preserve their
own personal safety. With respect to closed captioning, we've certainly seen some
progress in the more than twenty years since passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry
Act that brought closed captioning to television sets, and in the 15 years since the 1996
Act extended closed captioning to nearly all television programming. But that was 15
years ago, significant gaps remain, and it is time for the Commission to revisit these
rules. It's just not enough to generate captions based on teleprompter text in a nightly
newscast when that can mean that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals will miss
breaking news, weather updates, and live field interviews. Viewing habits and
programming schedules have changed since captioning rules were originally adopted and
we need to ensure access to must-have programming like early morning newscasts. These
are some of the basic things the FCC can and should do to ensure that deaf and hard-of-
hearing Americans have access to local news programming.
Finally, I want to close with a few words on media more generally. As many of
you know, this has been another passion of mine since I came to the Commission. I am
concerned that our media is not doing the job it needs to do to provide the news and
information our democracy needs in order to thrive. We have a stark small "d"
democratic challenge to overcome as we move into a new era of communications with
one another. Here I am talking about accessibility to a robust media for all Americans--
you, me and 310,000,000 others.
While at first glance you may think this goes beyond your issues--it doesn't. It
impacts them directly. How disability issues are covered and treated by the media makes
all the difference on how those issues will fare in the court of public opinion and in the
councils of power. If you're happy about how our current media system is handling your
issues, you don't need to listen to the rest of my remarks. But if you think those issues
might benefit from more diverse coverage, a little more local flavor, and a little more
competition within the media industry, then you need to put media up there toward the
top of your list of major concerns.
We all know, I think, that thousands of journalists are walking the street in search
of a job rather than walking the beat in search of a story, and that hundreds of newsrooms
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have been shuttered or put on starvation diets. Investigative journalism is on the
endangered species list. I won't go into the reasons why in great detail here, but the short
version is an undisciplined era of rampant private sector speculation and consolidation
that shrank news production. And this consolidation process was aided and abetted by
successive Federal Communications Commissions that encouraged it all, blessed it all,
and, to top it off, walked willingly away from their public interest oversight
responsibilities. The newspaper and the TV newsroom still produce probably more than
90% of the news we get--even the news we read online--it's just that there's so much
less of it--so much less in-depth reporting, so much less accountability journalism, so
few reporters in state capitals and fewer bureaus around the world compared with what
used to be.
Unless we fix the problems facing traditional news outlets, today's problems in
journalism will only continue, and inevitably get worse, in the broadband world of
tomorrow. Right now I don't see in the new Internet media the model, the mass or the
momentum to fill the void that has eviscerated traditional media. And we don't have the
time to wait for something that may never occur. We just have to find ways now to
ensure that citizens have access to a worthy media by reasserting public interest values
for traditional broadcast media and taking other steps that I am always happy to talk
about to make sure the digital world is able to realize its huge potential to nourish our
democratic dialogue. And we need to be especially vigilant that we don't allow the
dynamic, opportunity-creating potential of broadband and the Internet to travel down the
same road of consolidation and too much control by too few companies that inflicted so
much damage on traditional media. Will we be smart enough to do this? I don't know.
So far the signs are not particularly encouraging. And so much is at stake. So what I ask
you to take away from these remarks is that these are your issues, too. You are each a
stakeholder in them, and the stakes are huge. Ensuring that every American has access to
local news and information is the premise and prerequisite of democracy. Our future
depends upon an informed citizenry and the widest possible dissemination of news and
information to fuel the nation's conversation with itself.
One final thought. Remember that famous quote from Thomas Jefferson when he
was talking about what he would do if he had to choose between having newspapers and
no government or government and no newspapers? He said he would choose newspapers
without government. He was talking about newspapers, the information infrastructure,
the broadband, of his time. But he was really talking about the news. Then he added
this: "But I should mean that every man should receive those papers, and be capable of
reading them." At this critical juncture two hundred years later we would be wise to heed
that advice. Let's make sure everybody can access the digital tools required by the
Twenty-First century and let's make sure they know how to understand and use them.
This is precisely why we all need to be supporting what are called the "new literacies"--
digital literacy, media literacy and news literacy. The leadership of your organization
understands how crucial it is that meaningful support be given to educate our citizens on
how to navigate the awesome power of the Internet. And it is crucial that, with the
proliferation of websites, young people--and us elders, too--can distinguish between
trustworthy and not-so-trusty places on the Net and that we have the education we need
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to use--and avoid being misused by--our media ecosystem. These are the kinds of
things we need to be doing now, not only to strengthen our news and information
infrastructure, but to strengthen our democracy through a citizenry armed with the news
and information it needs to make informed decisions about the future of our country.
So, there's a lot for us to do, right? A whole lot of work if every American is to
share in the benefits of advanced telecommunications and world-class media that can
open the doors to a better future. I am, as I noted earlier, proud to have travelled this far
down the road alongside you, but we all realize there are so many more steps we need to
take together before all people with disabilities--and indeed all Americans--can finally
be fully participating, mainstream citizens in our society. It's still a long and winding
road to travel--laws to be implemented, perhaps more to be passed, jobs to be secured,
people to be educated, cared for and appreciated for their talents and humanity, hearts and
minds still to be won over to the cause. But we've come a long way and we can go the
rest if we pull together.
As many of you know, I am completing my time at the Commission this year. But
I also want you to know this: I am going to continue speaking out and working on these
issues in the years ahead. The voices of the disabilities communities inspired me as I
walked through the doors of the Commission ten years ago, and they continue to inspire
me today.
Thank you for all the good and wonderful things you do. Thank you for giving me
this very special day and this Award, which I assure you will be prominently displayed in
my office until I leave and in my home after that. Most of all, thank you for the
friendship you have shown me through the years. God bless you all.
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