Monday, January 25, 2010

LA Times Writer Blasts HR 3101!

Today's editorial in the Los Angeles Times should give every deaf or hard of hearing person reason to be concerned. The writer is opposed to HR 3101. His unwarranted argument is that because technology is advancing, there is no need for HR 3101. He doesn't mention captioning but takes aim at the entire bill.

That is definitely not true! We need HR 3101 to guarantee our legal right to access. Without it, we are at the mercy of companies that choose whether to provide access.

Deaf and hard of hearing people of a certain age may recall what happened with the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990. That bill was passed to solve a chicken or egg problem. Companies didn't want to caption until more decoders were sold. Deaf and hard of hearing people didn't want to buy decoders until there was more captioned programs!

So what happened? We got some, but not that much, increase in captioned programming. Even with all TVs 13 inches or bigger now capable of showing closed captions, broadcasters were STILL reluctant to caption. So Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which mandated a schedule of increased captioning.

The LA Times writer's claim of "steeper prices, increased bulk and reduced functionality" is the same argument companies used with the 1990 Act. Quite the opposite happened. Prices didn't increase that much if at all. The captioning circuitry was quite small and today can fit on a chip. There was more functionality in terms of people being able to turn on the captioning when needed. Turning it on was as simple as pressing a button on the remote or use of onscreen menus.

Without the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would you be able to enjoy as much programming as you do now on regular television? Would broadcasters have begun captioning out of the goodness of their hearts? Some would have. Others would have refused citing cost. And the deaf and hard of hearing would not have had a legal leg to stand on.

Do you want history to repeat itself? Yes, technology is advancing. However, as that earlier experience shows, just because the technology is available doesn't mean that the companies will do it! It is the reluctant ones who have to be forced to do it through the law.

So we must not allow the ideas posed by the LA Times writer to propagate (spread). If his type of thinking is allowed to spread, we can kiss HR 3101 goodbye and forget about having any legal protection for when companies "forget" to include closed captioning on their Internet television programming and video programming devices.

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