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Commissioner Copps' Remarks on Receiving the Karen Peltz-Strauss Public Policy Award.

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Released: June 2, 2011

REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS

ON RECEIVING THE PUBLIC POLICY AWARD

19th BIENNIAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

TELECOMMUNICATIONS FOR THE DEAF, INCORPORATED

AUSTIN, TEXAS

JUNE 2, 2011

This is truly a special day for me. It brings back so many memories of our work
together over the past decade. It's hard for me to believe that it was ten years ago that we
were together in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the 14th Biennial TDI Conference. I was a
newly-minted Member of the FCC, and addressing that gathering was my first speech as
a Commissioner. Since then, I have been privileged to work with so many of you in this
room in trying to get your needs and your input before the FCC and to develop policies
that could make a difference in your lives and all of our lives. Claude Stout and I became
immediate good friends the moment we met and it was at a small dinner that he arranged
in Sioux Falls the night before my speech that I first started to really understand both the
depth of the challenges confronted by so many people in our deaf and hard-of-hearing
communities, but also to realize the opportunity we had to apply the wonders of new
technologies to help overcome those challenges. Working with folks like Claude and
Roy Miller and Joe Duarte and Fred Weiner and Carol Sliney and so many more in this
audience and throughout the community has been for me the most inspiring and
rewarding part of my time at the Commission.
And what an honor it is to be receiving the Karen Peltz-Strauss Public Policy
Award--from none other than Karen Peltz-Strauss herself! Karen is one of my heroes. I
relied heavily on her in my early days as a Commissioner before she went out to work
directly in the community, and I urged Chairman Genachowski to try to entice her back
when he became Chairman--and he did. She and Joel Gurin and Greg Hlibok and their
team are so great to work with. Here's how I work with Karen. Inevitably--each and
every time--when an idea or proposal regarding your issues comes up, the first question I
ask is: "What does Karen think of this?" If it's a "go" for Karen, it's just about always a
"go" for me. She'll know the history, the substance, the practical impact, the cost and
the right thing to do. Karen has worked for 25 years to make sure that the disabilities
communities are not left behind as technology advances--ensuring that accessibility
needs are met when it comes to communicating over the telephone, watching television
and, today's challenge, accessing and using broadband. Our agency is such a better place
than it would otherwise be thanks to her expertise and her commitment to you. So I thank
her for that, for all the great advice and counsel she has shared with me, and for
presenting me with this wonderful Award this morning. It is something I will always
cherish.
I've been thinking in recent days about what a long way we've come in these ten
years! Back then 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
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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. It's where
jobs are found and secured, it's where companies recruit. It's important to our health as
telehealth and telemedicine become important components of how we care for ourselves.
It's important to how we educate ourselves and our kids for the competitive world in
which we all live. Broadband is already playing a huge role in education but we haven't
seen anything yet--the growth will be both phenomenal and transformative.
Broadband is also central to the future of our country. There is almost no
challenge we face that does not have a broadband component as an integral part of its
successful resolution. Job creation comes immediately to mind--both helping people
find the jobs that are out there, but also creating new jobs through the deployment,
adoption and utilization of this expansive information infrastructure. Few people would
deny that our country faces competitive commercial challenges from other countries
more severe than anything we have encountered since we were a colony a quarter of a
millennium ago. Things don't look as assured for our future as once they did. Our
economic future comes with no guarantees--only challenges to the preeminence we
enjoyed for so long. But broadband can help. It can help us decrease, for example, our
costly dependence on foreign fuels. It can also help us put the brakes on the degradation
of our environment. And it can do so much more. So we need to grab onto these new
tools of the Twenty-first Century and put them to work for ourselves and for our kids
who are growing up in a very different world from the one into which you and I were
born. The bottom line is this: participation in our economy, our society, and even our
democracy increasingly requires high speed Internet access.
For broadband to work it has to be available to all and be utilized by all. Its
premise is accessibility to everyone--no matter who they are, where they live, or the
particular circumstances of their individual lives. Access to high-speed, high-value
broadband is a defining right of this new age. Let's treat it as a civil right because that's
how it should be seen. If we don't do that, the differences that already divide America
will actually grow and the New Digital Age will instead become the Growing Digital
Divide Age. What a tragedy that would be--to have within our grasp the most dynamic,
liberating and opportunity-creating information technology in all of history--and let it be
used to erect new barriers to inclusion rather than to break down the old. That's why we
all need access to affordable broadband and an open Internet.
Earlier this year, we marked the 15th Anniversary of the Telecommunications
Act. Vice President Al Gore's words at the signing of that bill back in 1996 really
captured the true goal of that landmark legislation. He said then, and it still resonates
today, "I firmly believe that the proper role of government in the development of the
information superhighway is to promote and achieve at every stage of growth, at every
level of operation, at every scale, the public interest values of democracy, education, and
economic and social well-being for all of our citizens. If we do not see to it that every
project, every network, every system addresses the public interest at the beginning, then
when will it be addressed?"
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The people I see in this audience today have been leading the way to make that
vision a reality, by ensuring that the 54 million Americans with disabilities can share in
the benefits of the Digital Age. New technologies and new media certainly hold great
promise--but optimism alone doesn't get the job done. Hard work gets it done. You are
doing that work. Our job at the FCC is to help ensure that every American with a
disability has access to functionally equivalent communications services--a mandate
that, if it's going to work, must evolve as rapidly as the technological innovation we see
going on all around us.
That is why I was so thrilled to be in the White House watching 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 my friends Congressman Ed Markey, Congressman Henry Waxman, Senator
Jay Rockefeller and Senator Mark Pryor, this sweeping piece of communications and
civil rights legislation is now the law of the land, and it's going to make a world of
difference. The statute tasks the FCC with quick and far-reaching action to expand
opportunity for persons with disabilities. And I am happy to report that the FCC is hard at
work following up to implement the mandates of this historic legislation.
Allow me to share with you 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 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.
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. Video description, which provides
important--sometimes essential--information that is otherwise conveyed to the
viewing audience only visually, makes video programming more accessible to the
blind and visually impaired. Some broadcasters have provided this service of their
own accord since the Commission's rules were overturned in court more than a
decade ago, and I salute those that 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. You know, sometimes
there is just no substitute for a good deadline!
The Commission is also working to craft rules that ensure that persons with
disabilities are able fully to use advanced communications services, equipment and
networks. This hard-won requirement of accessibility was first enshrined in Section
255 of the 1996 Act, and even before passage of the Twenty-First Century Act the
current Commission was already digging into some of these issues, in particular
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focusing on the need to expand disability access to wireless telecommunications. But
now the Commission has the express statutory mandate to expand that requirement
beyond traditional telecommunications services like voice telephony and into the
world of advanced offerings like the mobile devices that so many of us use to go
online, watch video, send text messages--and, sometimes, even to make a plain old
telephone call, too!

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 voice, text, and video.
o And 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! And now that the action has shifted over to
the FCC, you have brought your talents to the advisory Committees and have already
given us valuable comment on our proposed rules. I can tell you this for sure: the
successful implementation of the law requires that we continue this close and ongoing
collaboration with you. So I encourage you to continue to participate actively as these
proceedings move forward at the FCC. It's important for this particular law. And it's
important for all the things we can do together in the years ahead. As my old boss
Senator Fritz Hollings often cautioned: decisions made without you are usually decisions
against you.
The FCC needs to be constantly vigilant that we are holding up our end of this
bargain, too. During my years at the Commission, I have tried to open our doors to the
full panoply of American stakeholders, so that the Commission isn't just hearing from the
biggest business interests with their armies of lawyers and lobbyists, but also from
consumers and citizens 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 has made important
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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. For example, in the coming
months, the Commission is going to be very focused on reform of our Universal Service
programs. looking to tackle not only challenges hindering the deployment of broadband
networks but also the barriers that stand in the way of millions of Americans adopting
broadband service in their homes. As many as one-third of the American people have not
adopted high-speed broadband at home--and we know the disparities are even starker for
Americans with disabilities, with one recent survey showing that only 54% of Americans
with disabilities use the Internet. And we know too that unemployment rates are much
higher among the disabled. These are exactly the kind of underserved populations that the
Lifeline program--which provides discounted phone service to low-income
households--is designed to assist. As we work to reorient this program to support
broadband and to provide the services every American needs to be competitive in the
Twenty-first Century, we need your ongoing input so that we can maximize the benefits
for the disabilities communities.
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.
Finally, allow me to address something we need to think more about in the context
of our changing communications landscape. We have a stark small "d" democratic
challenge to overcome as we move into a new era of communications with one another--
to ensure that we all have accessibility to a dynamic, information-laden media. .Here I am
talking about accessibility to a robust media for all Americans--you, me and
310,000,000 others. This is about traditional media--radio, television, cable and
newspapers. And it is about broadband, too. This is about broadband, too. It is about
fostering a broad information infrastructure to guarantee the flow of news and
information throughout the land. 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. While at first glance you may think this goes
beyond your issues--it doesn't. It impacts them directly. How the issues you personally
deem most important 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 need not
listen to the rest of my remarks. But if you think your top issues might benefit from a
little more diverse coverage, a little more local flavor, and a little more competition
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within the media industry, then you need to put media up their toward the top of your
major issue concerns.
This conversation about the future of the media must, of course, include Americans
with disabilities, who need access to their local news to be fully participating members of
our communities. With respect to closed captioning, we've certainly seen some progress
in the more than twenty years since the Television Decoder Circuitry Act that brought
closed captioning to television sets and fifteen years since the 1996 Act extended closed
captioning to nearly all television programming. But that was 15 years ago and there are
still some serious gaps and it is high time that the Commission revisit our rules in this
area. For example, generating captions based on the teleprompter text in a nightly
newscast guarantees 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 more than a decade ago and
the exemptions that were provided now encompass critical 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.
But, like I said, America's media shortfall affects every citizen in the land. We
just have to make sure that good, in-depth, hard-hitting news and information are
available through our media. There is no doubt that many Americans are increasingly
accessing news and information via the Internet--whether it's reading the newspaper
digitally, watching a news station video online, accessing various blogs, or using a news
aggregator to pick out the information they are looking for. The Internet has huge
potential here--if we're smart about it and keep it open. Indeed, there may be no greater
benefit that broadband can deliver than its ability to help inform our civic dialogue and
stimulate citizen engagement in our democracy. But facing up to its challenges is also
our public responsibility. We don't think about this nearly often enough.
But we cannot put our heads in the digital sand and assume that in-depth news
and accountability journalism will magically appear online while it has been disappearing
in our traditional media. 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 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 walked willingly away from their public interest
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.
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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 the model, the mass or the momentum in new media 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
American citizens have access to a worthy media by reasserting public interest values for
traditional broadcast media and taking other steps that I will be 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.
One more thought in this regard. We all remember that famous quote from
Thomas Jefferson who, when talking about newspapers--the information infrastructure,
the broadband, of his time--said that, if given the choice, he would prefer newspapers
without government over a government without newspapers. But that wasn't all he said.
Jefferson went on to say, "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. That is why we all need to be supporters of what are
called the new literacies--digital literacy, media literacy and news literacy. Your
leadership understands how crucial it is that meaningful support be given to educate our
citizens about how important this is to their futures and that they must learn how to
navigate the awesome power of the Internet. It's crucial that, with the proliferation of
websites, our young people--and us elders, too--can distinguish between trustworthy
and not-so-trusty places on the Net and that we provide our young citizens the education
they need 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 instill the importance of quality
journalism and to find ways to support its creation, 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, put all the things together that I've talked about this morning and I think we'll
agree--there's a lot to do. A whole lot to do before every American shares in the
benefits of advanced telecommunications and world-class media that can open the doors
to a better future. I am proud to have travelled this far down the road with you, but we all
realize there are so many more steps we need to take together for all people with
disabilities--and indeed for all Americans--who want to be, need to be and indeed
deserve to be, fully participating, mainstream citizens in our society. If we pull
together--if you continue and even expand your cooperation with other affected
communities and build effective alliances with them, with business and with
government--if you stay vigilant as new technologies develop--and if you keep pushing,
really pushing, at the public policy level, we can meet and master all these challenges.
As many of you know, I am completing my time at the Commission this year. But
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I also want you to know this: I am going to continue speaking out and working on these
issues in the years ahead. Your voices inspired me as I walked through the doors of the
Commission ten years ago and they continue to inspire me today. Your work, my
work--our work--is not done. But we're on the march, we're making progress, and we
shall overcome.
Thank you for the good and wonderful things you do, thank you for today, and
thank you for the friendship you have shown me through the years. God bless you all.
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