On February 8, 1996, the President signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 255(e) of this new law requires the Access Board, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission, to develop accessibility guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment within 18 months. The Board is also required to review and update the guidelines periodically.
The Act defines the relevant terms as follows:
TELECOMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT -- The term 'telecommunications equipment' means equipment, other than customer premises equipment, used by a carrier to provide telecommunications service and includes software integral to such equipment (including upgrades).
CUSTOMER PREMISES EQUIPMENT -- The term 'customer premises equipment' means equipment employed on the premises of a person (other than a carrier) to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE -- The term 'telecommunications service' means the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS -- The term 'telecommunications' means the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.
INFORMATION SERVICES -- The term 'information services' means
INFORMATION SERVICE- The term `information service'
means the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing,
transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information
via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not
include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or
operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications
The Act also indicates that carriers are required to install network features, functions, or capabilities that comply with the Board's guidelines.
(a) DEFINITIONS-- As used in this section --
(a) GENERAL DUTY OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS CARRIERS -- Each telecommunications carrier has the duty --
Title VII is amended by inserting after section 712 (47 U.S.C. 612) the following new section:
"SEC. 713. VIDEO PROGRAMMING ACCESSIBILITY.
"(a) Commission Inquiry.--Within 180 days after the date of enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission shall complete an inquiry to ascertain the level at which video programming is closed captioned. Such inquiry shall examine the extent to which existing or previously published programming is closed captioned, the size of the video programming provider or programming owner providing closed captioning, the size of the market served, the relative audience shares achieved, or any other related factors. The Commission shall submit to the Congress a report on the results of such inquiry.
"(b) Accountability Criteria.--Within 18 months after such date of enactment, the Commission shall prescribe such regulations as are necessary to implement this section. Such regulations shall ensure that--
"(1) video programming first published or exhibited after the effective date of such regulations is fully accessible through the provision of closed captions, except as provided in subsection (d); and
"(2) video programming providers or owners maximize the accessibility of video programming first published or exhibited prior to the effective date of such regulations through the provision of closed captions, except as provided in subsection (d).
"(c) Deadlines for Captioning.--Such regulations shall include an appropriate schedule of deadlines for the provision of closed captioning of video programming.
"(d) Exemptions.--Notwithstanding subsection (b)--
"(1) the Commission may exempt by regulation programs, classes of programs, or services for which the Commission has determined that the provision of closed captioning would be economically burdensome to the provider or owner of such programming;
"(2) a provider of video programming or the owner of any program carried by the provider shall not be obligated to supply closed captions if such action would be inconsistent with contracts in effect on the date of enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, except that nothing in this section shall be construed to relieve a video programming provider of its obligations to provide services required by Federal law; and
"(3) a provider of video programming or program owner may petition the Commission for an exemption from the requirements of this section, and the Commission may grant such petition upon a showing that the requirements contained in this section would result in an undue burden.
"(e) Undue Burden.--The term `undue burden' means significant difficulty or expense. In determining whether the closed captions necessary to comply with the requirements of this paragraph would result in an undue economic burden, the factors to be considered include--
"(1) the nature and cost of the closed captions for the programming;
"(2) the impact on the operation of the provider or program owner;
"(3) the financial resources of the provider or program owner; and
"(4) the type of operations of the provider or program owner.
"(f) Video Descriptions Inquiry.--Within 6 months after the date of enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Commission shall commence an inquiry to examine the use of video descriptions on video programming in order to ensure the accessibility of video programming to persons with visual impairments, and report to Congress on its findings. The Commission's report shall assess appropriate methods and schedules for phasing video descriptions into the marketplace, technical and quality standards for video descriptions, a definition of programming for which video descriptions would apply, and other technical and legal issues that the Commission deems appropriate.
"(g) Video Description.--For purposes of this section, `video description' means the insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements into natural pauses between the program's dialogue.
"(h) Private Rights of Actions Prohibited.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize any private right of action to enforce any requirement of this section or any regulation thereunder. The Commission shall have exclusive jurisdiction with respect to any complaint under this section.".