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Federal, State, Local, and Tribal Resources to Make Broadband Accessible and Affordable to People with Disabilities

September 25th, 2009 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Elizabeth Lyle BBWe have tentatively planned for a panel at our October 20 workshop to discuss funding and other resources at the federal, state, local, and tribal level that promote or could promote broadband accessibility and affordability for people with disabilities.

Please give us your feedback on workshop planning issues (e.g., how to structure this panel, suggested questions and speakers, and helpful background reading material) and policy issues.

  • What federal resources are available or could be available to fund broadband access and equipment for people with disabilities?
  • What are the potential sources for federal research funding that could promote broadband accessibility and affordability?
  • What resources are available to help better coordinate federal data collection relating to broadband usage by people with disabilities?
  • What lessons can we learn from programs that currently serve to promote broadband accessibility and affordability for people with disabilities?
  • What state, local and tribal resources are available to fund broadband access for people with disabilities?
  • What state equipment distribution programs provide equipment that can be used by people with disabilities to access broadband? Are there model programs that could be replicated elsewhere?
  • Are there potential state, local, and tribal resources that promote research or provide other support to promote broadband accessibility?
  • What other information, including information responsive to the more specific questions in the Public Notice do you think would help us better understand the federal, state, local, and tribal resources available to make broadband accessible and affordable to people with disabilities?

Please file your comments using our Electronic Filing Comment System, using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.

5 Responses to “Federal, State, Local, and Tribal Resources to Make Broadband Accessible and Affordable to People with Disabilities”

  1. Johnny Cunningham says:

    I am happy to see this happening, I am on disability and at times the internet is my only access to information, and my only form of communication. It is truly hard to afford, but hopefully that will get better

  2. Johnny Cunningham says:

    I look forward to the internet being part of this nations infrastruture.

  3. Jim Tobias says:

    One lesson we can learn from current programs on accessible ICT is how effective emergency services can be as a rallying point for advocacy and technological development. The FCC and others have been mobilized for many years by the need to make sure that people with disabilities have access to E911, emergency alerting systems, etc. This need is recognized because of the powerful narratives associated with any failures to address it. Emergency services would top anyone's list of essential accessibility requirements.

    But what else is on that list? What else do we expect all fully integrated members of our society to be able to do? Voting is on the list, as are education, employment, self management, etc. Consider all those functions, and the technological methods whereby they are performed. For each function, different technological methods arise, appear, dominate, and perhaps are replaced. Changes in educational practices, for example, mean that students in typical classrooms must have access to certain software today, certain multimedia tomorrow, and certain bandwidth the day after that. How can we regulate such a deeply contextual and dynamic environment?

    Perhaps it would be possible to create a set of technological capabilities that could serve as a floor or benchmark for social participation, at least for analytical purposes. It would be drawn from the total universe of capabilities, with an emphasis on what people actually use to achieve their desired goals at a given point in time. The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains a "market basket" of household consumer goods for the purpose of developing the Consumer Price Index. Those goods have changed over time as actual purchasing patterns have shifted.

    An analogous "broadband basket" could be developed. Today's list would include email and web browsing, but perhaps not peer-to-peer VoIP. Tomorrow's list might no longer include email. The point here is that any technological capability perceived as being essential to social participation should receive a proportionate level of accessibility attention. This is in no way to undercut a civil-rights view of accessibility. It is offered more as a measuring methodology -- what is the current level of social integration of people with disabilities in the information and communication technological life of their country.

  4. Elizabeth Lyle says:

    Interesting. So would the recommendation in the NBP is that the government (the FCC?) needs to develop a white paper fleshing out the "market basket" concept? Or would it be more of a benchmark report -- like perhaps an annual report that NTIA would put out? Since it would be an ever-changing basket, it sounds like you are not suggesting legislation to ensure that certain applications are accessible.

  5. Jim Tobias says:

    Yes, the market basket should certainly change over time; an annual report sounds like a great idea. It would be built by surveying (qualitatively and quantitatively) the application, service, and platform ecosystems being used for ICT. The results would be used to drive regulatory and non-regulatory (e.g., awareness programs, subsidies) interventions.

    As you say, any necessary legislation should not mention specific current technologies. It would have to have some specific scope, either all ICT (however that is being defined!) or ICT used for certain purposes that bear upon social inclusion -- education, employment, civic participation, etc.

    I did not make it clear above that this market basket approach need not be limited to accessibility. It could certainly encompass all carefully researched exclusion factors: household income, rurality, age, etc.

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