Just hours ago, the Commission approved our Spectrum Frontiers order, which will accelerate the development of next-generation 5G wireless technology and re-shape our communications infrastructure for the coming decade and beyond. But the Commission’s work never ends, and we are now moving forward with a package of items for consideration at our August open meeting. The focus of next month’s agenda will be one of the Commission’s most consistent priorities: ensuring and expanding communications opportunities for people with disabilities.
I couldn’t be prouder of the Commission’s record in expanding access to communications technology. We enhanced closed captioning and expanded captioning requirements for online video. We’ve accelerated the deployment of text-to-911 – a life-saver for some – and made emergency information on TV more accessible. We developed an open-source video access platform that will dramatically improve direct communications with federal agencies and businesses in American Sign Language (ASL).
For all our progress on accessibility issues, there’s more to be done. We’ll have an opportunity to build on this progress at our August meeting.
The Commission will consider a draft report and order to convert the pilot National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) into a permanent program. Known as “iCanConnect,” this program provides equipment needed to make telecommunications, advanced communications and the Internet accessible to Americans who have significant vision and hearing loss. The new NDBEDP would be able to spend up to $10 million annually to distribute equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The program would also provide training and other technical support, including individual assessments of each consumer’s specific accessibility needs, to help low-income people who are deaf-blind better utilize the communications equipment they need to fully participate in society.
Earlier today, I also circulated a proposed report and order that would further strengthen our hearing aid compatibility rules and increase the number of wireless handset models that must be hearing aid compatible. The item builds off new rules and a further proposal that the Commission adopted unanimously last November. The new order would enshrine a consensus plan developed collaboratively by the wireless industry and groups representing people with hearing loss that puts us on the path to achieve hearing aid compatibility for 100 percent of new handsets within eight years. This evolution will greatly expand options for people with hearing loss, simplify the task of finding handsets that work with hearing aids and ensure that people with hearing loss have full access to innovative handsets. At the same time, the implementation time line would ensure that manufacturers and service providers will include HAC features from the earliest stages of the design process.
In addition to these accessibility items, the Commission’s August meeting will also feature an item that will both ensure that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are just, reasonable, and fair for local and long-distance calls, and that the nation’s jails and prisons are compensated for reasonable costs associated with the provision of inmate calling services. The proposed item takes a careful look at the costs that facilities incur as a result of ICS and covers these ICS-related costs through modest increases in the inmate calling rate caps previously set by the FCC. As always, special thanks are due to Commissioner Clyburn for her leadership on this issue.