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May 16, 2003

Telecommunications Access

From: Justice-For-All - May 16, 2003

Karen Peltz Strauss [] writes:
TRS and Section 255 issues
Date: May 16, 2003

Three items:

1. New TRS Order - Yesterday, all 5 FCC Commissioners unanimously
approved new rules improving telecommunications relay services.
Among other things, the new rules will enable TRS providers to pass
through caller ID, provide TRS callers with various new services
including call release, call forwarding, speed dialing, 2-line VCO,
2-line HCO, and other TRS variations, clarify matters on emergency
calling through TRS, and respond to various pending TRS petitions.

In addition, the FCC's new Order is accompanied by a further notice
of proposed rulemaking that seeks additional input on outreach,
priority for TRS centers in the event of a disaster, the applicability
of certain technological advances, and whether the FCC should modify
eligibility criteria for providers seeking compensation from the TRS
fund. The Order is expected to be released shortly.

2. Revision of Reimbursement Rate for Video Relay Service
JUNE 2004. (DA No. 03-1527). Comments Due: 05/22/2003. Reply Comments Due:
05/29/2003. CGB. Contact: Dana Jackson at (202) 418-2512

3. Article on Section 255 Complaint - Jeff Silva of RCR has written the
following article on the Bonnie O'Day formal complaint which alleges the
failure of Audiovox and Verizon Wireless to comply with Section 255:
Lawsuit by blind woman questions carriers' roles in designing phone specs
* May 12, 2003

WASHINGTON-Federal Communications Commission officials this week are
expected to meet with attorneys warring over a blind woman's disability
complaint against Audiovox Communications Corp. and Verizon Wireless Inc., a
controversy with potential precedent-setting implications that immediately
calls into question whether a wireless carrier can be considered a
manufacturer under the 1996 telecom act.

Bonnie O'Day, the blind woman who filed a formal complaint against the two
wireless firms on Feb. 21, argues Verizon Wireless is indeed liable for not
accommodating her disability. O'Day asserts the phone should have more
audio-based prompts and menus in lieu of text-only functions.

Verizon Wireless asserts it is Audiovox's problem. Audiovox said phone
features sought by O'Day are not readily achievable as a legal matter.

FCC disability access rules flow from Section 255 of the 1996 telecom act.
The law requires manufacturers to ensure that "equipment is designed,
developed and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with
disabilities, if readily achievable." Telecom service providers, for their
part, likewise "shall ensure that the service is accessible to and usable by
individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable."

Section 255 has roots in the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Even before attorneys meet with FCC officials tomorrow, the case already has
generated reams of paper in filings.

O'Day's lawyers at Spiegel & McDiarmid, who have taken the case on a
pro-bono basis, said federal regulations implementing Section 255 direct
service providers to identify barriers to disability accessibility and
usability as part of the product design and development process.

"This provision cannot be disregarded by Verizon Wireless on the grounds
that it is `manufacturing provision.' There is a responsibility imposed
directly upon service providers under these regulations," stated O'Day in
her complaint.

Not so, replies Verizon Wireless.

"Verizon Wireless is not a manufacturer under the commission's rules and is
not subject to the manufacturing Requirements of Section 255," the nation's
No. 1 mobile-phone carrier told the FCC.

At the same time, Verizon Wireless acknowledged it is far from a casual

"Verizon Wireless does ... participate in product development in its
capacity as a service provider," the carrier stated. "In that role, Verizon
Wireless provides the manufacturers with detailed product specifications
regarding a wide variety of issues such as network compatibility and
[Section] 255 accessibility; including a check list of Section 255
capability with which the latter must seek to comply before their products
will be accepted for use on Verizon Wireless's network."

O'Day said Verizon Wireless lists itself as the manufacturer of the
CDM-9500, the mobile phone owned by O'Day that is at issue in the case.

The crossfire between O'Day and Verizon Wireless raises an important issue
for the FCC: Is there a point at which a carrier's involvement in product
development makes it a manufacturer insofar as telecom disability access
rules are concerned?

O'Day's Section 255 complaint is the first to be filed with the FCC since
the 1996 telecom law was enacted. The case is being treated as a restricted
proceeding, an all-paper one at that. That means, among other things,
outside attorneys cannot meet with FCC officials unless representatives of
all the parties are present.

Attorneys will not be able to call witnesses as they can in some FCC
proceedings overseen by administrative law judges. But there is expected to
be some discovery, an allowance that O'Day's lawyers will use to try to get
into the company files of Verizon Wireless and Audiovox.

The case could be decided by the FCC rather than at the bureau level because
of the novel issues presented. "I don't think that decision has been made,"
said Kurt Schroeder, deputy chief of the Telecommunications Consumers
Division, a unit of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

Schroeder said the proceeding could take a year or so to resolve.

The O'Day complaint is gaining steam as the FCC moves closer to deciding
another disability access issue confronting the mobile-phone industry. The
agency is expected to rule in the next month or so whether mobile-phone
operators should be required to make digital handsets hearing-aid
compatible. There is some indication the FCC is leaning toward a phased-in
approach to hearing-aid compatibility, a disability issue with origins in
1988 federal legislation.

The stakes are huge in both disability proceedings for the wireless
industry, consumers and the FCC. Approximately 8 million citizens have
hearing aids, while 10 million people are blind or visually impaired.

With mobile phones-used by 145 million consumers-becoming a substitute for
landline telephones, federal regulators suddenly find themselves under
pressure to deal directly with a major domestic policy issue in
America-disability access-which could help shape the legacy of FCC Chairman
Michael Powell.


Fred Fay
Guest Justice-For-All Moderator

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