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A Giant Leap and A Big Deal

April 23rd, 2010 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Today, the Commission is releasing “A Giant Leap and a Big Deal:  Delivering on the Promise of Equal Access to Broadband for People with Disabilities.”  It is the second paper in a series of working papers that are being released in conjunction with the National Broadband Plan. And it is the first time the Commission has issued a working paper addressing accessibility and technology issues.
 
The “giant leap” is a reference to Marlee Matlin’s testimony at the Gallaudet Field Hearing on November 6:

It seems that all the hard work that we did 20 years ago has virtually disappeared when it comes to updating access standards for broadband and the Internet.  Imagine Neil Armstrong watching a re-broadcast 20 years later, in 1989, of his first steps on the moon, only to find his words which echoed across the globe, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were no longer there – erased, as if he had never been to the moon. That’s how taking closed captions out of broadcast content now being shown on the Internet feels to millions of people like myself.

The “big deal” is a reference to comments on Broadband.gov of sandraleesmith46, who was quoted by the Chairman at the Silicon Flatirons event on March 10:

[I am] a disabled citizen on a very tight budget . . . I have this computer as a gift from my sister, and I currently have wireless Internet access as part of my rent at the RV park where I live. . . I have difficulty getting out and doing many things physically, and to shop, bank, and the like.  . . Before going on line, I rarely socialized because the physical effort to get there, to do so, was just too great.  With the Internet, I can do so with little energy output, and enjoy doing so. Believe it or not, that is a big deal.

In between these bookends, the paper provides an analysis of and a context for the National Broadband Plan’s accessibility recommendations.  Relying on extensive feedback from the public, it discusses the barriers and opportunities in much greater detail.  It discusses the role of industry innovation and the importance of building on ongoing efforts in the public and private sectors.  

The paper also identifies gaps that must be addressed if we are going to accelerate the adoption of broadband by people with disabilities.  We need to improve implementation and enforcement of existing accessibility laws.  We must gather and analyze more information and coordinate accessibility policy and spending priorities.  We need to update regulations and subsidy programs.  We also must update our approach to accessibility problem solving and tap new sources of information and innovation and use the tools of new media and open government to promote collaborative problem solving.

The paper discusses how the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan will help address these needs.  The paper discusses in more detail the creation of a Broadband Accessibility Working Group in the Executive Branch; the establishment of an Accessibility and Innovation Forum; and the modernization of accessibility laws, rules, and related subsidy programs by the FCC; the Department of Justice, and Congress.

And now we are all rolling up our sleeves to make the National Broadband Plan’s blueprint for accessibility a reality.  

Joel Gurin and Karen Peltz Strauss are leading the charge from CGB and will be working with other bureaus to initiate several proceedings over the next few months.  I’m also happy that I will be working with them and others throughout the Commission to set up the Accessibility and Innovation Forum.  We will need your help to make these efforts a success and will be working closely with all stakeholders.

As the working paper concludes, delivering on the promise of equal access to the broadband infrastructure will be one of the “giant leaps” of our generation ... and we must show that we do believe that this is a big deal, for people with disabilities and for all Americans.

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