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Broadband Accessibility II: Recap

October 27th, 2009 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Elizabeth Lyle BBHow do you sum up over seven hours of rich and thoughtful content from our October 20 workshop in one blog post?  I'll do my best to follow the model of the 22 participants of the afternoon policy roundtable, each of whom managed to state their views of what recommendations we should include in the National Broadband Plan succinctly and passionately -- while at the same timing beating the three-minute buzzer.

In the first panel, Leveraging Federal and State Resources to make Broadband Accessible and Affordable, we heard about the efforts of Department of Commerce/NTIA, Department of Agriculture/RUS, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Government Services Administration, and the State of Missouri (from Danny Weitzner, Gary Boles, Jennifer Sheehy, Richard Horne, Terry Weaver, and Marty Exline, respectively) to support broadband access for people with disabilities.   While each agency is clearly making an important contribution, the daunting task before us is to figure out how we can better coordinate our efforts at the tribal, local, state, federal, and international levels.

In the second panel, we heard consumers discuss very movingly the specific barriers and opportunities that broadband presents to those who have speech, hearing, vision, hearing and vision, mobility, and intellectual disabilities.  A consultant gave a "big picture" analysis of these barriers and opportunities.  The panel did a superb job of clearly articulating the problems that we have to solve.  Thanks to Eric Bridges of the American Council of the Blind; Rosaline Crawford of the National Association of the Deaf; Peggy Hathaway of Spinal Cord Advocates; Rebecca Ladew of Speech Communications Assistance by Telephone; Elizabeth Spiers of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind; Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies; and Elizabeth Weintraub of the Council on Quality and Leadership.

"Advancing National Purposes for People with Disabilities" was the theme of the third panel.  Jim Fruchterman of Benetech discussed how Bookshare allows people with vision, learning, and mobility disabilities to have online access to over 50,000 books and periodicals.  Peggy Hathaway of Spinal Cord Advocates discussed how broadband  provides new job and civic participation opportunities for people with mobility disabilities, and Claude Stout of Telecommunications for the Deaf discussed the urgent need for people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to be able to contact E-911 services directly using pagers, e-mail, and real-time text and video.  Kate Seelman of the University of Pittsburgh discussed how broadband-enabled telerehabilitation can help people with disabilities better manage their health and employment, and Ishak Kang of DOT UI discussed how the Smart Grid could benefit people with disabilities.

During the lunch break, people had time to check out some technology exhibits.  They included a demonstration of WGBH's Teacher Domain; Bookshare; PLYmedia's online video captioning solution; RIM's blackberry smartphones; and the Wireless RERC's emergency communications project.

The fourth panel was a fascinating exploration of the technological barriers and opportunities relating to broadband accessibility.  Among other things, the panelists addressed E-911 issues; the importance of interoperability and open architecture; the potential to address accessibility challenges through cloud computing; and the challenges related to captioning on the Internet.  We needed a lot more time than 55 minutes to cover these topics (and other topics that we wanted to cover).  Thanks to Greg Elin of United Cerebral Palsy and Life Without Limits; Jim Fruchterman of Benetech; Dale Hatfield of Silicon Flatirons;  John Snapp of Intrado; and Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for their participation.

The contributions of the wide variety of stakeholders who gave us their views on what recommendations we should include in the National Broadband Plan were amazing.  Most consumers and some in industry stated that it was critical to update the accessibility regulatory framework and promote universal design but others warned that too much regulation could hamper innovation.  A wide range of stakeholders thought that subsidizing broadband services and equipment -- particularly expensive assistive technologies used by people with disabilities -- was critical.  Most stakeholders thought that consumer/industry/government fora could play an important role in addressing some complex issues.  Most participants also thought that the government could take an active role in working with industry to promote best practices -- and perhaps foster some kind of innovation center.  Finally, many stated that government itself should be a better model of accessibility and do a better job of enforcing the accessibility rules that are already on the books, including the ADA, Section 255, and Section 508. We very much appreciate the participation of Rob Atkinson of IITF; Ellen Blackler of AT&T; Alan Brightman of Yahoo; Kathy Brown of Verizon; Deborah Buck of the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs; David Capozzi of the U.S. Access Board; Larry Goldberg of the Media Access Group at WGBH; Patrick Halley of NENA; Dale Hatfield of Silicon Flatirons; Matthew Knopf of PLYmedia; Jane Mago of NAB; Helena Mitchell of the Wireless RERC at Georgia Tech; Randy Pope of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind; Ken Salaets of ITIC; Paul Schroeder of American Foundation of the Blind; Grant Seiffert of TIA; Dane Snowden of CTIA; Claude Stout of TDI; Karen Peltz Strauss of COAT;  Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies; Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Joe Waz on Comcast.

This event could never have happened without the engagement of so many people throughout the Commission.  Moderators included Commissioner Copps; Sherrese Smith and Mary Beth Richards of the Chairman's office; Jennifer Schneider of Commissioner Copps' office; Erik Garr, General Manager of the Broadband Team; Workshop Coordinator and DRO Deputy Chief Cheryl King; Broadband Team members Elise Kohn, John Horrigan, Kristin Kane, Steve Midgley, Jing Vivatrat, and Kerry McDermott; Walter Johnston of OET (subbing for Chief Technologist Stagg Newman); and Jennifer Manner and Ronnie Cho of PSHSB.  Official Government Observers included David Furth of PSHSB; Jane Jackson of WTB; Mark Stone and Cheryl King of CGB; and Terry Weaver of GSA.  Finally, there were numerous people behind the scenes from CGB and DRO, the A-V team, and on the Broadband team policy staff who helped make the event run smoothly.

The input we've received is invaluable.  We do have some follow up questions and will be soliciting further ex parte submissions in a separate blog post in the very near future.  But for now, my three-minute buzzer has gone off!

3 Responses to “Broadband Accessibility II: Recap”

  1. bureaucratic FCC says:

    Why does it seem like the FCC is conducting inane dialogues - repeating the same general information at these workshops that you could just read on a wikipedia page. And I'm not just talking about this recap, this is practically all of the workshops.

    I understand inviting the public - lobbyists with agendas that are ready to spout their practiced rhetoric, or some guy from MIT giving vague information, so the FCC can prepare the broadband plan. Even so, it seems like the FCC could have gotten all this information a long time ago, and made some progress on these projects.

    I do however appreciate the open-ness of these workshops and you updating information, thank you.

  2. Alex Goldman says:

    I believe that the FCC needs to make some decisions regarding technology. It should support both fiber and fixed wireless, which are capable of gigabit speeds, but not throw money away on unproven technologies like BPL or invest in closed cellular networks.

  3. Guest says:

    How about having 4G like in Europe or Japan? Why are we so behind them? Are those "unproven technologies"? They already communicate over there via videos and we don't even have this opportunity here.

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