FCC releases broadband plan for the US

Wednesday, 17 March 2010 12:28pm

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US communications regulator, has released its National Broadband Plan for the US. The plan revolves around expanding access to broadband through promoting competition in the industry, supporting universal service requirements, and reforming policy and legislation to maximise the benefits which broadband can provide.

The broadband plan notes that, in the US, people with disabilities were much less likely to use broadband than others. Indeed, whilst the national average adoption rate is approximately 65%, the adoption rate for people with disabilities is only 42%. This puts Americans with disabilities in a broadband adoption range similar to Americans with low incomes (40%) and those over the age of 65 (35%). Americans with disabilities make up 39% of all those who do not use broadband.

The FCC notes the following were barriers to access which people with disabilities experience specifically—not including other barriers common to other disadvantaged groups (such as those with a disproportionately lower income):

  • Devices often are not designed to be accessible for people with disabilities.
  • Assistive technologies are expensive (Braille displays, for example, can cost between US$3,500 and US$15,000).
  • Services, including emergency services, are not accessible.
  • Web pages and new media applications cannot be accessed by a person using a screen reader.
  • Internet-based video programming does not have captions or audio description (called video description in the US) offering an account of what is on the screen.

The FCC is calling for the US federal government to convene a Broadband Access Working Group (BAWG), an Accessibility and Innovation forum, and for access legislation and standards to be updated to reflect modern broadband realities. The FCC wants to promote greater adoption of broadband internet for people with disabilities and greater use of the benefits to high-speed internet. The FCC believes that, if the US federal government becomes a model access provider, then others will follow.

To make access a reality, the FCC suggests the US federal government ensure that services and equipment are accessible and digital content is made accessible through captioning and audio description, and subsidise and materially support the development and distribution of assistive technologies.

You can access each section of the plan from the FCC website.

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