FCC Proposes New Accessibility Rules for VoIP, Video Chat, other Advanced Communications Services; Networks Prohibited from Impairing or Impeding Transmission of Accessibility Information

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Today, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement Section 716 of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Section 716 requires providers and equipment manufacturers to make "advanced communications services" accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. The Act defines "advanced communications services" to include both interconnected and non-interconnected VoIP (eg, Vonage and other over-the-top VoIP services), electronic messaging serfvices (text messaging), and "interoperable video conferencing services." Section 716 is intended to complement the existing accessibility obligations of telecommunications and interconnected VoIP providers under Section 255 of the Communications Act, however, the new Accessibility Act broadens the scope of covered entities and imposes a stricter standard for compliance.

While Section 716 established the general accessibility obligations for service providers and equipment manufacturers, the NPRM sheds light on certain issues that were not so clear under the statutory language. For example, the NPRM proposes that non-interconnected VoIP includes any service offerings with a "purely incidental VoIP component" thus potentially capturing gaming consoles and other services that some commentors have argued should not be regulated since the "core" functions do not involve VoIP. In addition, the NPRM explains that the statutory definition of "interoperable video conferencing services" includes more recent video chat services (Skype, Google Video Chat) and related equipment (iPhone, Droid).

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