August 20, 2012. A recent review of comments in the FCC docket in regard to proposed new rules to implement the 21st CVAA reveals that, despite this significant legislation, the fight to secure accessible advanced communications technology and services continues during the rulemaking process. One blind cable TV subscriber wrote eloquently asking the FCC to not grant a waiver exempting the nation's largest TV trade association (NCTA) up to 2016 to make their set-top boxes accessible. Read NCTA request for this waiver here. Several national consumer groups have protested this industry exemption request for accessible communications equipment saying "petitioners are abusing the CVAA’s limited primary purpose waiver provision to collectively exclude people with disabilities from accessing the entire universe of increasingly convergent multi-purpose living room-based devices and services, potentially perpetuating a serious digital divide."
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and other consumer groups have asserted that industry groups are “trying to make an end run” around proposed new FCC rules under 21st CVAA through asking for waivers and other “we want lots of flexibility” type requests.
Sending in multiple filings, major consumer electronics group, CEA, has demanded an IP-TV accessibility waiver for equipment manufactured up to 2016, among other demands. CEA also hired an economist to argue its case for "flexible to us" regulations from the FCC. He averred that “imposing the FCC’s accessibility mandate under the current schedule rather than waiting a short period of time as requested by CEA could increase the cost to manufacturers and actually reduce the availability and increase the consumer price of Advanced Communication Services." In another filing at the FCC, CEA also accused some of the disability consumer groups of making "baseless and erroneous allegations" to the FCC about CEA’s activities (or lack thereof).
Similarly, the world's largest smart phone maker HTC also requested the FCC to be "flexible" in the new 21st CVAA rules. Likewise, global telecommunications industry group, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), essentially also asked the FCC to go easy on them with new communications equipment accessibility rules. Another request to water down the regulations was made also by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
Leading blindness advocacy groups criticized the FCC for lack of implementation of existing accessibility regulations under Section 255. ACB noted that enforcement by the FCC of accessible phones under existing Section 255 regulations "is abysmal". Likewise, AFB, another leading blindness consumer group said "industry largely inert" to longstanding rules under Section 255 for accessible telecommunications/ICT. ACB did remark that “aside from one manufacturer, Panasonic, no other major equipment manufacturer of telecommunication devices has made a concerted effort to produce devices that meet the needs of blind and visually impaired people, providing this market with very little choice.” Similarly, HLAA, a major hearing loss consumer group, in their comments to the FCC that addressed hearing aid disability equipment needs, said that “We are unaware of mainstream mobile phone manufacturers or service providers who include people with hearing loss in their market research, product design, testing, pilot demonstrations or product trials.” COAT notes that Section 255 rules require such participation in product development.