Wednesday, May 26, 2010

HR 3101 Gets Two More Cosponsors!


Earlier today, Caption Action 2 found that two more HR 3101 cosponsors joined the listing. Let us welcome Representatives Gerald Connolly (VA-11) (our own representative!) and Nita Lowey (NY-18). Both Reps are Democrats.







Democrats - 47, Republicans - 2

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Major Milestone: Senate Hearing!

Less than a month after it was introduced, S 3304, the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, is getting a hearing in the Senate! The hearing will be held Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 2:30 pm in the Russell Building, room 253. Why are we getting a hearing so soon when it has been almost a year since the introduction of the House bill HR 3101? Answer: the Senate bill is cosponsored by the subcommittee chairman, John Kerry!

Link: US Senate Hearing on S.3304-H.R.3101 Issues Set for Wed May 26, 2:30 PM Russell Building Room 253

It really makes a huge difference when the bill is supported by the chairman. S 3304 has only three cosponsors, whereas HR 3101 has 47! The number of cosponsors is not what matters in terms of determining whether a bill gets a hearing; support from the chairman and other members of the subcommittee are what matter! In fact, Mr. Kerry said (in part):

no one should be or has to be excluded from modern communications and the new economy because of a disability

So things are looking good in the Senate! This is a very big deal; most bills do not even make it to the point of getting a hearing. The (hearing) media has been contacted, and hopefully someone will cover the hearing.

What will happen next? Caption Action 2 checked with someone more familiar with politics than Caption Action 2 (we are advocates, not politicians!) and we were told that the bill could get reported out of the Subcommittee to the full committee. There would not be another hearing, but the full committee could vote. Then it could go to the full Senate for a vote - but that depends on the Senate Majority Leader, in this case Senator Harry Reid.

Again, we are doing good in the Senate so far! However, we still have a problem in the House with subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher not moving the bill to the floor for a hearing. Almost 50 cosponsors including one on the subcommittee itself, and Boucher still has not moved it. The hope is that passage in the Senate will send a strong message to the House.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is Your Cable Company Preventing Our Success?

Is your cable company resisting HR 3101 and S 3304? Maybe, if what Caption Action 2 was told by Senator Bill Nelson's office is any indication! When CA 2 told Nelson's office (Clint Odom) that we are seeking cosponsors for S 3304, the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, this was the response:

Odom: I think Sen. Nelson would like to support a consensus bill like the one that was worked out in the House. I understand there are still some very important stakeholders who have not yet come to the table.

I think everyone wants to see this bill enacted.

CA 2: Do you know who these stakeholders are that have not yet come to the table? I don't mean general stakeholders like "television industry" or"cell phone manufacturers," but more specific like "CBS TV" or "XYZ Phone."

Odom: For instance, where has Comcast, Time Warner, and Charter Communications been in the process?

This is the first time Caption Action 2 has gotten specific names. Up until now, it has only been the industry organizations, as in this COAT report on meeting with industry representatives. What does this mean? Was Odom just throwing out names, or was he implying that Comcast, Time Warner, and Charter Communications actually are resisting HR 3101 and S 3304?

We don't know. But if we were to find out that our own cable service was hampering the passage of HR 3101/S 3304, we would be quite upset to say the least. Industry associations like the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) are one thing, it is another when it is your own cable company!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Adapt Shmapt. Here's a Comeback!

Someone forwarded us a copy of a response they received from their Senator's office after writing her to ask for cosponsorship of S 3304, the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act. This is what Senator Amy Klobuchar's office wrote:
Thank you for contacting me about the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act. I appreciate hearing from you on this particular piece of legislation.

As you may know, S. 3304 would require technology companies, phone manufacturers and Web vendors to adapt their products to deaf or blind customers. It was introduced in the Senate on May 4, 2010, and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. I will keep your comments in mind should this or related legislation come before the full Senate for a vote.
Jamie was so disgusted that she called Klobuchar's office and got the name of the staff person who handles S. 3304. Then she shot an email to that person stating:
There is one problem with that statement. If a product needs to be adapted for deaf, hard of hearing, and blind people, that means it was not accessible in the first place! That's why we need this bill - so that products will be accessible to begin with.
Less than an hour later, Daniel Schill (daniel_schill@klobuchar.senate.gov) responded, asking for any materials on S 3304 that he could share with Senator Klobuchar.

So keep this comeback in mind if you get a letter from your Senator (or Representative - we are still working to get HR 3101 passed!) talking about how the bill(s) would require companies to adapt their products.


Update: Klobuchar attended the Senate hearing on S 3304/HR 3101, held May 26. If you watch the video, she appears near the end.

Link:
History on Capitol Hill: Senate Hearing on S 3304/HR 3101

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do VOIP Services Have to Pay Into TRS? Yes and No!

Caption Action 2 was both right and wrong about Voice Over IP (VOIP) services not having to pay into the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) fund. Here is why, and what we learned after consulting with both the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc. (NECA), as well as doing some additional research. The information in this post is very important because it affects the health of the TRS fund!

Two Kinds of VOIP

Interconnected VOIP

Turns out there are two different kinds of VOIP. The first kind is Interconnected VOIP. It is called Interconnected because it "touches" the regular telephone network (public switched telephone network). Someone who uses an Interconnected VOIP provider like Vonage can call any number. A more formal definition of Interconnected VOIP Service can be found in 47 CFR 9.3:

Interconnected VoIP service. An interconnected Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service is a service that:

(1) Enables real-time, two-way voice communications;

(2) Requires a broadband connection from the user's location;

(3) Requires Internet protocol-compatible customer premises equipment (CPE); and

(4) Permits users generally to receive calls that originate on the public switched telephone network and to terminate calls to the public switched telephone network.


Non-Interconnected VOIP Service

The other kind of VOIP, non-interconnected VOIP, is called that because it never "touches" the public switched telephone network. HR 3101 defines non-interconnected VOIP as:

‘(56) NON-INTERCONNECTED VOIP SERVICE- The term ‘non-interconnected VoIP service’--

‘(A) means a service that--

‘(i) enables real-time voice communications that originate from or terminate to the user’s location using Internet protocol or any successor protocol; and

‘(ii) requires Internet protocol compatible customer premises equipment; and

‘(B) does not include any service that is an interconnected VoIP service.

Why We Were Wrong

We thought that all VOIP services did not have to pay into the TRS fund. According to the NAD, that was true at the time HR 3101 was introduced. In fact, the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology had produced a position statement that warned of the threat to the TRS fund if VOIP services did not have to pay into the TRS fund. However, according to the NAD, after HR 3101 was introduced, the FCC recognized the risks to the fund and used its authority to require Interconnected VOIP to pay into the TRS fund.

This was confirmed by Jill Cardoso of NECA, who pointed Caption Action 2 to a PDF file, a Telecommunications Reporting Worksheet. In that file, we found this language: "Section 64.604 requires that every common carrier and interconnected VoIP provider contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund on the basis of its relative share of interstate end-user telecommunications revenues..."

Why We Were Right

Although Interconnected VOIP is indeed required to contribute to the TRS fund, Non-Interconnected VOIP like Skype, is NOT required to contribute. This was confirmed by the NAD.

Hey! That's Not Fair!

HR 3101 has language that would require BOTH interconnected AND non-interconnected VOIP to contribute to the TRS fund, as follows:
SEC. 715. INTERNET PROTOCOL-BASED RELAY SERVICES
Within one year after the date of enactment of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009, each interconnected VoIP service provider and each provider of non-interconnected VoIP service shall participate in and contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund established in section 64.404(c)(5)(iii) of the Commission’s regulations (47 C.F.R. 64.404(c)(5)(iii)), as in effect on the date of enactment of such Act, in a manner prescribed by the Commission by regulation to provide for obligations of such providers that are consistent with and comparable to the obligations of other contributors to such Fund.’’

However, S. 3304 does NOT require both interconnected and non-interconnected VOIP to contribute to the TRS fund - ONLY interconnected.
SEC. 715. INTERNET PROTOCOL-BASED RELAY SERVICES.
‘Within 1 year after the date of enactment of the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, each interconnected VoIP service provider shall participate in and contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund established in section 64.404(c)(5)(iii) of the Commission’s regulations (47 C.F.R. 64.404(c)(5)(iii)) as in effect on the date of enactment of such Act, in a manner prescribed by the Commission by regulation to provide for obligations of such providers that are consistent with and comparable to the obligations of other contributors to the Fund.

Will This Impact the TRS Fund?

Will the fact non-interconnected VOIP does not have to pay into the TRS fund, hurt the TRS fund? Maybe! Caption Action 2 went back to Jill Cardoso to ask her if the TRS fund was seeing any reduction. Her answer was "We will have to wait and see once we start billing the new Fund year in July. " In the meantime, she suggested we compare the data in the April 30, 2010 NECA filing on NECA.org to the previous year's NECA filing.

The filing contains multiple Exhibits. The exhibits seem to present a variety of possible scenarios for the TRS fund's health. In each exhibit, the total collections for 2008 is 776,075,728. The total collections for 2009 is 850,161,288. This shows an increase, yes, but read on...

Exhibit 3-8a :

The projected total for 2010 is 765,445,973 - a DECREASE of about $85 million from 2009.

The projected collections for 2011 through June 2011 is only 287,904,061.

Exhibit 3-8b:

Projected 2010 total: 688,711,873 - a DECREASE of about $161 million.

Projected total through June 2011: 222,874,238

Exhibit 3-8c:

Projected 2010 total: 670,429,101 - a DECREASE of about $179 million.
Projected total through June 2011: 207,380,145

Exhibit 3-8d:

Projected 2010 total: 593,695,001 - DECREASE of about $257 million
Projected total through June 2011: 142,350,323

So What Does All this Mean?

Unless the law is updated, non-Interconnected VOIP will continue to be exempt from having to pay into the TRS fund. If both HR 3101 and S 3304 pass, Congress will have to work on reconciling the two bills, and hopefully the reconciled version would apply to both types of VOIP services.

But in the meantime, every time that someone chooses to use a non-interconnected VOIP service like Skype as their sole means of telephone communications, the TRS fund loses a source of funds.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Better Chance in the Senate? We Think So!

Although there are some concerns about some of the language in S. 3304 (the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act) as seen in the COAT press release, Caption Action 2 believes we have a better chance in the Senate with S. 3304! Here is why:

A More Supportive Chairman

S. 3304 is in the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Subcommitee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. (Remember that HR 3101 is in the House's Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.) S.3304's sponsor Senator Mark Pryor is on the Subcommittee, just like HR 3101's sponsor Rep. Ed Markey is on the Subcommittee. That's the similarity. The reason we think we have a better chance with S. 3304 is that with S. 3304, the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator John Kerry, is a cosponsor. In contrast, with HR 3101, chairman Rick Boucher is not a cosponsor. The icing on the cake is that there is already another cosponsor on the subcommittee, Senator Byron Dorgan.

Need More Cosponsors

What this means is that if chair Sen. Kerry wanted to move S. 3304 to the floor for a vote in the Subcommittee, he could. However, S. 3304 needs more cosponsor support before Kerry can move the bill. This was confirmed by Sarah Holland in Senator Pryor's office, who wrote to Caption Action 2: "The best chance we have of seeing this legislation pass the Senate and become law is to have more cosponsors."

So let's get started! As with HR 3101, the key is cosponsors on the subcommittee, though we also need more cosponsors outside the subcommittee. At this time, the only Senator outside of the Subcommittee who cosponsors S. 3304 is Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND). If your Senator is on the list of Subcommittee members below, please make sure to take a few minutes this week and call or write your Senator to ask him or her to cosponsor S. 3304! (Also help spread the word on S. 3304!)

Senators on the Subcommittee
(Links are to email pages)

Alaska - Senator Mark Begich, (202) 224-3004
Florida - Senator George LeMieux, (202) 224-3041, @george_lemieux; Senator Bill Nelson, (202) 224-5274, @senbillnelson
Georgia - Senator Johnny Isakson, (202) 224-3643
Hawaii - Senator Daniel Inouye, (202) 224-3934, @Daniel_Inouye
Kansas - Senator Sam Brownback, (202) 224-6521, @sensambrownback
Louisiana - Senator David Vitter, (202) 224-4623
Maine - Senator Olympia Snowe, (202) 224-5344
Minnesota - Senator Amy Klobuchar, (202) 224-3244
Mississippi - Senator Roger Wicker, (202) 224-6253
Missouri - Senator Claire McCaskill, (202) 224-6154, @clairecmc
Nebraska - Senator Mike Johanns, (202) 224-4224
Nevada - Senator John Ensign, (202) 224-6244, @SenEnsign
New Jersey - Senator Frank Lautenberg, (202) 224-3224, @franklautenberg
New Mexico - Senator Tom Udall, (202) 224-6621, @SenatorTomUdall
South Carolina - Senator Jim DeMint, (202) 224-6121
South Dakota - Senator John Thune, (202) 224-2321
Virginia - Senator Mark Warner, (202) 224-2023 [Warner is our own Senator!]
Washington - Senator Maria Cantwell, (202) 224-3441

Here is the language in S. 3304 that refers to captioning on the Internet:

`(2) DEADLINES FOR INTERNET-DISTRIBUTED PROGRAMMING-

`(A) Within 18 months after the submission of the report to Congress required by section 201(b) of the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, the Commission shall prescribe regulations that include an appropriate schedule of deadlines for the provision of closed captioning of video programming distributed to the public over the Internet.

`(B) Consistent with the regulations promulgated under subsection (b), the regulations prescribed under this paragraph shall ensure the accessibility of video programming, except for consumer generated media (as such term is to be defined by the Commission), through the provision of captions on--

`(i) preproduced video programming that was previously captioned for television viewing;

`(ii) live video programming; and

`(iii) video programming first published or exhibited after the effective date of such regulations provided by or generally considered to be comparable to programming provided by multichannel programming distributors.'.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Caption Action 2: May 2010 Newsletter

This is the Caption Action 2 newsletter for May 2010. We are glad to see that Caption Action 2 continues to grow, because if HR 3101 does not pass this Congress, we are going to need a very strong support base for the next Congress! So, don't leave the Caption Action 2 Facebook group just because of this. Stay with us!

TWO MORE COSPONSORS - REPUBLICANS!

Following an intense lobbying effort on April 15, which was the National Association of the Deaf's Virtual Legislative Day in support of HR 3101, the first two Republicans signed on! (Read about Caption Action 2 on Capitol Hill) This is a major milestone for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, because in the previous Congress, no Republicans signed on. So we are especially glad to welcome Representatives Parker Griffith (Alabama) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida), as co-sponsors 45 and 46.

ONE MORE COSPONSOR - FRANK PALLONE, JR!

Right before this newsletter "went to press," we found out that Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey) had signed on to HR 3101. That makes Pallone the 47th cosponsor for HR 3101.

So now we have more than TRIPLE the total number of cosponsors the bill had when it was first introduced in the previous Congress. That is truly amazing, and shows an increasing awareness on the part of Congressmen and Congresswomen that there is a need for this legally guaranteed accessibility.

IGNORANT REPRESENTATIVES

Thanks to people sharing what happens after they contact their Representatives, Caption Action 2 is realizing what we are up against. One thing we are up against is ignorance. In the blog post Rep. Frank Wolf Ignorant About HR 3101! we share a response Wolf's office sent to someone, plus our own letter to Wolf's office. Wolf's office mistakenly thought that HR 3101 would require the alteration of technology! Then in the follow-up blog post, we share the response Caption Action 2 received from Wolf's office.

CONFERENCE, CONVENTION, and EXPO SEASON!

With the start of the warm weather, conference, convention, and expo season is here! At the Celebrate Communication expo hosted by the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People on May 1, Caption Action 2 joined forces with the National Association of the Deaf to educate people about HR 3101. We passed out several pre-printed notecards with key highlights of HR 3101 and website URLs. Will there be a conference, convention, or expo in your area anytime soon? Advocate for HR 3101 there! Although the word is clearly spreading about HR 3101 - most of the people we encountered at Celebrate Communication had at least heard about HR 3101 - there are still plenty of people out there who have never heard of HR 3101, and these are the people we need to reach. Contact Caption Action 2 through Facebook or email (email address is on the blogsite) if you would like advice on how to advocate at your local conference, convention, or expo.

Another great opportunity to spread the word about HR 3101 is at deaf awareness events! This time of year many amusement parks, stadiums, and aquariums have deaf awareness days. Ask the organizers of your local deaf awareness days if you can pass out information about HR 3101 there.

RICK BOUCHER CARTOON

As everyone knows, we need for Representative Rick Boucher, the chairperson of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, to move HR 3101. Boucher has been supportive of other bills that benefit deaf and hard of hearing people, but not HR 3101. Tamara Davidson captures the situation perfectly in her cartoon, "Rick Boucher, Move HR 3101 Already!"

FUTURE PLANS FOR CAPTION ACTION 2

In the event that HR 3101 does not pass this Congress, Caption Action 2 plans to become a more political force. This is an election year for Congress, with every Representative having to fight to keep their job. Even Rick Boucher is under siege, as reported by Politico. Let's use this to our advantage! Contact your Representative OR your Representative's challenger, and let them know that your vote is going to go to whomever supports the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act! At the same time, we must work hard to make sure that every single one of the 47 cosponsors to date keeps his or her job, because we will need their support again.

Read full details about how this new tactic works in the just published blog post, "Announcing Operation Backscratcher."

We believe that Caption Action 2 can have real influence on at least some Congressional elections, because usually when it is not a presidential election year, fewer people vote. So our votes are worth more!

UNIVERSAL SUBTITLES!

Word is spreading quickly about a new project to develop a subtitling widget for websites. There are already websites that allow you to quickly and easily subtitle a video, but there has never been a widely available widget. Details are at http://www.mozilla.org/causes/subtitles/, on a captioned YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MjtY4pooFA, and a blog at http://blog.universalsubtitles.org/.

COMPLETE COSPONSOR LIST

Alabama:
Representative Griffith, Parker

Arizona:
Representative Grijalva, Raul

California:
Representative Berman, Howard
Representative Filner, Bob
Representative Lee, Barbara
Representative Napolitano, Grace
Representative Sanchez, Linda
Representative Schiff, Adam
Representative Stark, Fortney Pete

District of Columbia:
Representative Norton, Eleanor Holmes

Florida:
Representative Hastings, Alcee
Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana

Georgia:
Representative Lewis, John

Guam:
Representative Bordallo, Madeline

Illinois:
Representative Schakowsky, Janice

Indiana:
Representative Carson, Andre

Kansas:
Representative Moore, Dennis

Kentucky:
Representative Chandler, Ben

Maine:
Reprsentatative Pingree, Chellie

Maryland:
Representative Van Hollen, Chris

Massachusetts:
Representative Capuano, Michael
Representative McGovern, Jim
Representative Neal, Richard
Representative Olver, John
Representative Tierney, John

Minnesota:
Representative McCollum, Betty
Representative Peterson, Collin

Missouri:
Representative Cleaver, Emmanuel

New Jersey
Representative Payne, Donald
Representative Rothman, Stephen

New York:
Representative Engel, Eliot
Representative Hinchey, Maurice
Representative Israel, Steve
Representative Maffei, Daniel
Representative Maloney, Carolyn
Representative Slaughter, Louise
Representative Towns, Edolphus

Ohio:
Representative Kilroy, Mary Jo
Representative Ryan, Tim

Oregon:
Representative Blumenauer, Earl

Pennsylvania:
Representative Kanjorski, Paul

Tennessee:
Representative Davis, Lincoln

Texas:
Representative Doggett, Lloyd

Virginia:
Representative Moran, Jim

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Senate version of HR301 Introduced!

The Senate version of HR 3101 was introduced today by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR)!

Pryor wants improved Internet access for deaf, blind

Sen. Pryor pushing bill to adapt Net, tech for deaf, blind

Pryor's version is called the "Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act."

Update: The National Association of the Deaf posted the PDF version of the bill, which is 46 pages long.

Update 2: The bill is now known as S3304. Read COAT's press release, Senate bill introduced: "Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act "(S. 3304).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Announcing Operation Backscratcher!

Caption Action 2 is announcing the start of Operation Backscratcher! What is that? Are you scratching your head in puzzlement? Here is what Operation Backscratcher is all about...

But first, if HR 3101 does not pass this Congress, we are going to need a very strong support base for the next Congress! So, don't leave the Caption Action 2 Facebook group just because of this. Stay with us!

You've heard of the old saying, "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours?" That is certainly true in politics! So Operation Backscratcher uses that concept.

An example of Operation Backscratcher in action: Over the weekend, we became fed up with waiting for our own representative, Gerry Connolly, to sign on. So we contacted the campaign of a challenger: Pat Herrity. We told the Herrity campaign that if Mr. Herrity would commit to supporting the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act when it is re-introduced in Congress next year, we would tell deaf and hard of hearing people in our district to vote for Mr. Herrity. We sent the same message tonight to the campaign of Keith Fimian, who is also competing to be the Republican challenger to Connolly.

Today, we got a fast response from the Herrity campaign saying that Mr. Herrity was researching the bill and would make a decision soon.

That's how Operation Backscratcher works! This is an election year for Congress. Time is running out to get HR 3101 passed this year, so it is time to look ahead, and plan ahead. Not only is it an election year for Congress, it is also an "off year" with no Presidential election! That means far fewer people will vote. Ergo, the value of the deaf and hard of hearing vote increases substantially!

Tell your Representatives who have not signed on to HR 3101, that they will NOT get your vote this year. Then contact the campaigns of their challengers and try to get them to pledge their support for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Document any response you get as you will need the proof if the challenger wins. Now is the time to start building relationships with candidates because if they win, we will have a better chance of getting their support if we have established relationships with them.

Do this regardless of whether you vote Democratic and the challenger is Republican, or vice versa. Mr Connolly is Democratic and his challengers Mr. Herrity and Mr. Fimian are Republican. Normally Caption Action 2 votes Democratic but if either Mr. Herrity or Mr. Fimian is willing to support our bill, we will vote Republican.

In addition to Operation Backscratcher, we also need an Operation Retain! What is Operation Retain? We have to work HARD to make sure that every single one of the bill's cosponsors KEEPS his or her job as a Congressional representative. That means voting for them, and encouraging everyone in your community to do the same.

Let's start flexing our political muscle as deaf and hard of hearing people, families, and friends!

New Jersey Representative Is 47th Cosponsor!

Caption Action 2 just learned this morning that HR 3101 got its 47th cosponsor.

Let us welcome New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone (D-6)!

Democrats - 45, Republicans - 2