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for the Blind

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Broadband: What Does It Mean for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired?

This document is archived as it is no longer timely and may be only of historical value.

For information on current issues see the Public Policy and Policy Research section.


Recently, there has been an unusual amount of discussion of "broadband" in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission. What does this policy debate mean to people who are blind or visually impaired?

First, broadband refers to technology that allows much faster speeds for connecting to the Internet, several times the current dial-up rate that most users are familiar with. Telephone, cable and even satellite companies are anxious to sell these new high-speed connections. Since people who are blind or visually impaired have the opportunity to access more information through the Internet than through other means, there is likely a high interest in faster, more effective connections to this information. And, the prospect of accessing audio files also makes a faster connection very valuable.

However, changes in broadband policy may effect accessibility for people with disabilities in two ways. First, the telecommunications access provisions of Section 255 could be weakened as more communication services are provided over broadband platforms. Second, broadband-based equipment and services may not be required to be accessible to people with disabilities since the FCC is proposing to consider broadband to be an "information service" rather than a "telecommunications service." This distinction is critical since Sec. 255 covers telecommunications services not information services.

AFB Comments on Broadband

Appropriate Framework for Broadband Access to the Internet Over Wireline Facilities (CC Dockets No. 02-33; 95-20)

Reply comments on cable modem access (GN Docket No. 00-185; CS Docket No. 02-52)

In the Matter of Inquiry Concerning High-Speed Access to the Internet Over Cable and Other Facilities; Internet Over Cable Declaratory Ruling; Appropriate Regulatory Treatment for Broadband Access to the Internet Over Cable Facilities

Related Legislation

On April 24, 2001, Representative W. "Billy" Tauzin (R-LA-3) introduced HR 1542, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001, a bill to deregulate the Internet and high speed data services.

On August 1, 2002, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced S.2863, the Consumer Broadband Deregulation Act, a bill to provide for deregulation of consumer broadband services. Senator McCain's bill is the first major broadband legislation to include provisions to ensure that people with disabilities will be able to benefit from broadband deployment.

The disability access amendments would require manufacturers of broadband equipment and providers of broadband consumer services to ensure that their equipment and services are accessible to people with disabilities unless doing so would result in an undue burden. The language also requires that equipment and services that can not be made accessible be made to work with the specialized technology used by people with disabilities, unless that too would result in an undue burden.

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