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Hearing of the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Subject: Draft Legislation Enhancing Access to Broadband Technology and Services for Persons with Disabilities


Location: Washington, DC

REP. MARKEY: Good morning, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet and one of the most important hearings that we're going to have during this two-year period. The rise of digital technologies and services meshed with broadband access to the Internet is driving further innovation across communications markets. As these changes challenge marketplace participants and spawn new services and markets, various industries have lamented over recent years that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission simply cannot keep pace.

They repeatedly assert that our nation's laws and regulations are antiquated. They have successfully pressed for changes and continue to push for additional new ones in various laws and regulations to reflect new technologies and new competition. Hurry up, they say. Get on -- we're changing all these old regulations. Quickly update our communications laws.

However, when it comes to updating our laws in ensuring access for individuals with disabilities, we seem to be hearing a different story from the industry. Slow down, they say. Not so fast. Shouldn't we wait and see where technology is going first before we start updating regulations? It seems to me that the question in this area is not whether Congress will keep up with the changes in technology but rather will the industries keep up with the changes that are already happening in millions of homes all across our country already. That's because millions of consumers today are utilizing an array of exciting and innovative new technologies that are Internet- based.

Our national media environment has gone from encompassing not only the traditional media but new media. Indeed, we are at a point today where the people publish and blog and communicate themselves. The challenge for the industries is whether they will keep pace in ensuring that these empowering technologies enhance the lives of all consumers or whether individuals with disabilities will fall behind. The fact is that the new technologies and services in themselves are neither good nor bad. They only become good when we animate such technologies with the human values that reflect the best of what we are as a society.

In other words, the wizardry of the wires and the sophistication of the software programs do little for those who cannot affordably access or effectively use them. Our job as policy makers is to help ensure such affordable access and utilization and this is what the draft legislation I have circulated is intended to do. This is not to say that companies in various fields have not made efforts. Progress in ensuring that communications technologies serve the needs of individuals with disabilities is evident in several products and services offered by many companies including Apple, Sun Microsystems, Time Warner, Adobe, Microsoft, and other high-tech wire line and wireless providers.

And as our population ages there will be more of us who will inevitably benefit from these efforts. There will be a tech fair sponsored by many of those companies on May 16th so that members and staff may see the products and services such companies are offering or developing in this area. These initiatives are to be applauded and I commend them.

And finally, I must note that many of the arguments being raised against provisions of the draft bill are eerily similar to arguments raised against hearing and compatibility or against the closed captioning bill I sponsored and successfully battled to make law in 1990 with the help of King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet College, who is sitting out here in the audience today. Welcome back again, sir. In that debate we were told that mandating closed captioning would add $20 to the price of a TV set. That was overly burdensome. It would crush the industry -- that it would take a lifetime and a fortune to caption all the movies and television programs out there.

Notwithstanding those objections, we passed my bill and the president signed it and today not only is it indispensable to millions of individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired, but closed captioning is used in immigrant families to help them learn the language and seen in sports bars across the country. Moreover, the mandate didn't cost remotely close to $20. It cost about $1 per TV set.

The purpose of today's hearing is to better understand the needs of individuals with disabilities as well as their excitement about what new technologies can offer. We will also be able to gauge the extent of efforts by companies and industries in meeting these expressed needs and aspirations and how best to update our laws in the new digital broadband Internet environment because even though the technologies and marketplace may change the values we seek to instill in those technologies are immutable.

I want to thank our incredible panel of witnesses today for being here. I'm really looking forward to this hearing. Let me turn now and recognize the ranking member of the committee, the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Stearns.


REP. MARKEY: Thank you very much, Sergeant Major. That was very powerful. Thank you. (Applause.)

The chair will recognize himself for a round of questions.

Let me begin with you Mr. Goldberg. As someone with a long history with closed captioning, I'd like your sense of whether the fact that a law was passed imposing an obligation, 1990, 1996, and the establishment for deadlines, were helpful or not in ensuring that the entire industry served the disabled community.

MR. GOLDBERG: Yes, Mr. Chairman, those deadlines that were imposed for developing the chip, for the Decoder Act, and getting on the air with captions lit a real fire under content providers and distributors of programming. We really did need that deadline, and we met that deadline through very good concerted action by consumers, manufacturers and programming --

REP. MARKEY: And the deadline was important?

MR. GOLDBERG: Very important.

REP. MARKEY: Now, the Internet industry asserts that captioning of the Internet is technically very, very difficult for them and it's very hard for them to figure it out. And these are the smartest technological people in America, and they say they can't just figure it out; it's very hard. Do you agree? Is it very difficult for these geniuses in Silicon Valley and in Route 128 outside of Harvard and MIT to figure this out?

MR. GOLDBERG: Well, I think they actually already have figured it out, as you saw today on "PEEP." I think what needs to be figured out is how to make it pervasive, how to make it widespread.

REP. MARKEY: If it's not that difficult, then what should we do to make sure there's more consistency in the marketplace; that is, that what we saw today is done uniformly across the entire marketplace? Do we need a law? Do we need regulations? Do we need deadlines put in place so that everyone meets the standard that you showed us on the screen today is already possible?

MR. GOLDBERG: I think the answer is, how do you turn a low priority into a high priority? I think --

REP. MARKEY: You're saying it's a low priority for the industry.

MR. GOLDBERG: Exactly.


MR. GOLDBERG: And to raise that up. There's some really good, hard-working people in these companies who need something that can help drive them to be able to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

REP. MARKEY: Why is it a low priority for the industry?

MR. GOLDBERG: Well, the disability market is not a market, in fact. I think it's an example of market failure. You can't wait to increase your bottom line by selling more captioning to deaf people; they don't even pay for captioning. So there are so many other distractions and other markets to look at, it's hard for companies to agree to put the resources voluntarily. When they get together, they do good work together. We do good work together. But we all need a push.

REP. MARKEY: So you're saying that they're so busy trying to make money that it's hard for them to turn around and say, "What about all of the people with disabilities out there, the deaf and the blind?"

MR. GOLDBERG: It's great that they make --

REP. MARKEY: "I mean, we'll get to that later. It's not that we can't do it. We could do it, but it's just a low priority. We have to make a lot more money before we get to that point." Huh?

MR. GOLDBERG: I think it's great that they make that money, and they can help invest in their disability access with some of that funding.

REP. MARKEY: Now, Mr. Anderson, you mentioned that deaf people have a number of options to communicate using text messaging, instant messaging and paging. With all those choices, do we need a standard for real time text communication?

MR. ANDERSON: Yes, we do, because there's not a real time standard. Say you have a person with disability in trouble and he needs to contact 911. They would have to send a whole phrase with those that we have out now, rather than sending word by word -- excuse me, letter by letter.

REP. MARKEY: Mm-hmm. And the consequence, then, is that there's a delay in the reaction.


REP. MARKEY: Yeah, and the consequences could be catastrophic.

MR. ANDERSON: It could.

REP. MARKEY: Mr. Snowden, attached to your testimony is an article about hand-held scanners that can turn text on photograph documents into speech. This is a wonderful device, and others like it can bring empowerment to individuals but they are very costly. The one in the article is $2,000. How do we bring the costs down?

MR. SNOWDEN: I think as you've seen through any product that comes out first to market, they're usually very, very high. And as we perfect it, as we get it out in the mass market, the prices will begin to come down. You've seen that with HD televisions, as well. I mean, at one point you had to take out a second mortgage to be able to get one. And now they're reasonably priced. And the same will happen with these products as they go forward. But it's a great product and a great example of how the industry is actually doing what, I think, many people want.

REP. MARKEY: Yeah. The problem is (just no news ?). Mr. Goldberg is saying the market is not working. That is, if there had to be a mass production of this device and every company had to make it, we could reduce the cost from $2,000 per item -- this goes to the whole question the closed captioning chip in a TV set. If you built it for only one, it's going to be very expensive. If you build it for all 27 million TV sets that are sold in United States every year, the cost goes down to $1 per TV set. So what would be the objection to mandating that this technology be built in? Wouldn't that result in a much lower cost per unit if all companies were required to do this?

MR. SNOWDEN: Are you referring to the closed captioning or are you referring to the menu option in the article?

REP. MARKEY: Yeah, the empowering technologies.

MR. SNOWDEN: I think first I would say that I don't think Mr. Goldberg was saying that all parts of the industry, all parts of the market -- and there are certain parts, I'm sure, he would agree that we're doing well. And I think the wireless industry, by example of my testimony and the article that you've seen, we're showing that we are doing a lot in the various areas hitting a variety of disabilities.

As we go forward, one of the things that I think is important for all of us, and particularly us in industry, we have to keep understanding what people in the community want. You don't do that in a vacuum, you do that by meeting with people. And I think through the many advisory committees and the TEITAC process, the HAC process and things of that nature, meeting with the COAT coalition, that's how we learn what's important.

REP. MARKEY: You've heard from the community today. They want this legislation to pass. Would you work with us to draft it in a way which it could pass this year, Mr. Snowden?

MR. SNOWDEN: I think we've been working with the committee and the members in the room today, the advocate members in the room, for months on end on many of these issues. We've sat through a two-year process with the U.S. Access Board, TEITAC process with many of the people in this room here, side by side, multiple hours working through, trying to figure out the standards. And that's the important part. Before we go forward, we need to have what are the standards as we go forward. Larry -- excuse me, Mr. Goldberg has the ICF --

REP. MARKEY: Well, can you help us? Maybe -- and I don't want to keep interrupting you, but what I found in 1990 and, you know, '92, '96, is that we just had to set a deadline. Would you help us to develop what the deadline should be so that we can just legislate that, and then work out what the standard is; but then with kind of a deadline for when the exam is going to have to be completed?

MR. SNOWDEN: We will continue to work and advise and consult with this committee on anything.

REP. MARKEY: Including setting deadlines?

MR. SNOWDEN: If that's what this committee wants to do, that's up to you all, of course. I think what our concern with setting a deadline is first understanding the technology.

REP. MARKEY: No, I understand. See, here's the way I view deadlines. There are some colleges in America that don't give final exams.

And that's really great for the kids that had 4.0 all the way --


REP. MARKEY: -- from kindergarten through college. But for people like me, you better have an exam, because I'm not going to study until the exam is set. When you give me the deadline, I start to do my homework. Right? And it's amazing how much I can learn and get done in that final couple of weeks before the exam. But if it's January and the exam is in June, I don't start working, you know? And that's just how human nature is, don't you think, Mr. Snowden, in general, for most people?

I hate to say it; it's just a sad fact of the matter. So that's why, I think, working together, we'll just set deadlines; we'll give people enough time. But most of these people are very, very smart. And if they work together, I think that once the deadline is set they can find the solution. They did so with all the closed captioning, telephone -- telecommunications devices for the deaf laws. They somehow or other they met every deadline. And can you work with us to do that now in these areas?

MR. SNOWDEN: We will always work with you. And I will say that I went to a school that had set deadlines, as well so I understand your point on that.

REP. MARKEY: Yeah. You know what I'm saying. It's like the first game of the season. Okay, you're not intensifying your efforts in April and May and June as you are in the first week of October getting ready for it.


REP. MARKEY: I thank the gentleman.

By the way, I'm going to ask a couple of questions here and then I'm going to ask each one of you to give us the one minute you want us to remember from your testimony. So think about that while I'm asking a couple of questions right now, and we'll come back to you for that.

Mr. Nakata, just to clarify, you're saying that you believe the legislation is necessary, but you think that the private right of action may need procedural safeguards. Is that correct?

MR. NAKATA: Yes, and the undue burden also is problematic. I'm definitely in favor of legislation. As a former Justice Department attorney, I'm very much in favor of that.

REP. MARKEY: And would you -- would enforceable deadlines help, as Mr. Goldberg has testified?

MR. NAKATA: I think that they would, although I think that you would have to consult with industry to --

REP. MARKEY: No, what I'm saying is once we consult.

MR. NAKATA: -- (inaudible) -- a reasonable deadline. Yeah, I think deadlines do help.

REP. MARKEY: Right. But you have to have a deadline on consulting with industry, too, on creating a deadline. (Laughter.) If you understand what I mean.


REP. MARKEY: That there's really a chicken-and-egg problem there, because you could drag out that whole process of creating the time for the deadline until eternity.

Mr. Harvard, Sergeant Major Acosta pointed out that menus on phones and other devices are hard to decipher to get to the audio features on the menus. Could you briefly talk about the menus on video devices and how difficult they are to use, what you would like to see happen in this area?

MR. HARVARD: Certainly. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have faced a lot of problem. You know, it's taken 15 minutes of time trying to actually turn on the captioning. I have to go through and search. There's really no clear way to go through. I mean, I think it's very critical that there needs to be something that gives you instant access to the captions, you know, from probably on the remote, where you push one button rather than have to go into the menu of the device and search and search and search to be able to find that. Then there's 15 minutes gone and you can't fix it. A friend of mine has one where he puts it on and presses a button and, bingo, you have captioning. So my suggestion is to have that button that you press for the captioning.

REP. MARKEY: Do you agree with that, Mr. Anderson? Do you agree that it just should be, bingo, you push the closed captioning and there it is?

MR. ANDERSON: Definitely. You have some (features ?) that are able to do that, at hotels. I feel like there should be a universal remote that makes it just simplified, has the (CC there ?), you're able to press it and it's on.


REP. MARKEY: Thank you, Sgt. Major Acosta.

And we thank each one of our panelists. I think each of us will remember this panel for the rest of our lives. It was powerful testimony from each one of you, very helpful to the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

My intention is to work very closely with Mr. Stearns, the members of the committee and yourselves towards the goal of resolving these questions so that we can ensure that we reach -- my goal would be that we can reach a day where children have to look to the history books to find that there ever was a time when every citizen, regardless of their disability, could not access the Internet, could not access these technologies. And I think that should be our goal, to just make it a historical footnote that technologies weren't accessible to everyone. And I would like to work and invite everyone here to work with us towards drafting a legislation that brings us close to that day.

With that, this hearing is adjourned.

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