Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Effective Letter to a Representative!

This letter was posted in draft form on a captioning discussion list. The author provided a copy of the final version for posting on the Caption Action 2 blog. We think it is a very effective letter! We are posting it unedited, except for one sentence where we added bolding because it makes the point so well.

Dear Representative Edwards,

My name is CL, I am a constituent of yours and I’d like to take a few moments of your time to talk about a issue that is really important to me.

I’d like to talk with you about House Resolution 3101. This is a bill that in very broad terms allows hard of hearing, deaf, senior citizens and people learning English as a second language the same access to the same information as their less disadvantaged counterparts. It also seeks to include these people into emergency broadcast information in portable ways that are useful such as text messages on phones or email broadcasts.

Things that would allow someone who cannot make use of a weather radio or a car radio to find out potentially life saving information. Even still today many years after 9/11 there is still no unified state of federal system for notifying persons with auditory disabilities of major incidents or impending harm.

But let us not focus on simply emergency situations. Lets look at everyday life. The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 passed by Congress on the 23rd of January 1990 came with the promise that all people would have visual access to the verbal information as presented on the screen.

Before this act broadcasters complained that the cost of adding captions to there programming was too high because it served too small of a market to justify the costs incurred. So even for those people who could afford the caption decoders, they where limited to a very small selection of programming choices.

So with the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 all televisions larger than 13 inches where required to have the Closed Caption decoder technology built into them. Part of the thinking with this act was that the increased market of new televisions being sold with this captioning technology already built into them would be an incentive to the television broadcasters to provide more captioned programming.

Six years passed before Congress had to intervene again. It turned out that even after millions of televisions had been manufactured and purchased with the caption decoder technology in, television broadcasters still were not producing very many shows with captioning. So under Sec. 305 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Congress charged the FCC with establishing a standard for the percentage of programming that had to accessible and a timetable to enforce a rollout of the implementation of this technology.

As of 1 January 2006 the standard has been established that 100% of the programming that is broadcast today [to include all programming produced after 1 January 1998] is closed captioned. There are certain undue burden exemptions that are granted to some broadcast media, but almost everything that is broadcast as television media is captioned.

I think it has become abundantly clear that commercial producers of media and online distributors of commercial media have little or no interest in providing fair and equal access to content that is currently already captioned. A prime example of this is the CEO of Netflix (A DVD based and online streaming video movie broadcaster). Mister Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix was asked if the company planned on adding captions to their online movie streaming service during a stock holders meeting. He stated and I am paraphrasing here, that adding captions to the service is not currently on the agenda.

I think we are well beyond the time where we can blame the shortcomings of technology as the reason why this equal access is denied to 37 million American citizens. I find it hard to believe that television manufacturers can find a way to put an inexpensive computer into every television that will allow it to decode captions, but that a moderately expensive computer cant receive streaming media with captions in it. Something sounds very wrong with that logic.

I believe that we are beyond the reach of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 our technology has improved but our fair and equal access to this content has not. Private industry has had in my opinion plenty of time to use the technology at hand to extend access to all individuals and they have not. And in acting in their own best interest as a business I do not believe that we will see any type of universal access standards from broadcast media over the internet or portable wireless devices without intervention from Congress.

In closing Representative Edwards I would like it very much if you would put your support behind HR 3101. I believe it is a very important measure to stop the ever widening digital divide among our citizens.

Thank you for your time.

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