Disabled Advocates Challenge Verizon’s Claims that ‘Fast Lanes’ Help Them

Posted by at 12:11 pm on July 22, 2014

Verizon’s claims that the US Federal Communications Commission’s new net neutrality rules would hurt the disabled and blind have come under fire by those Verizon claims to be looking out for. In a filing with the FCC, several disability advocacy organizations clearly disagree that Verizon is looking out for the best interests of the disabled, and request that “In no case should accessibility considerations form a basis for permitting paid prioritization more broadly, and the Commission should reject any overture to the contrary.”

The filing comes from advocacy groups Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the National Association of the Deaf, the Hearing Loss Association of America, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network, and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telecommunications Access.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal for net neutrality prevents companies from downgrading Internet traffic in their own favor, but also opens up the opportunity for Internet service providers to charge extra for faster content delivery, codifying such deals as those penned by Netflix with Comcast and Verizon. The chairman has threatened to regulate the Internet under Title II “common carrier” laws, should the ISPs fail to abide by regulations set forth by the FCC, or if they abuse the “fast lane” concept in any way.

The groups write to say that “We also take this opportunity to express our concern over the reported contentions of at least one broadband provider that the Commission should facilitate ‘fast lanes’ — essentially permitting paid prioritization — for the sake of accessibility. While we strongly believe that Internet-based services and applications must be made accessible, we also believe that doing so is possible on an open network and without the need for broadband providers to specifically identify traffic from accessibility applications and separate it out for special treatment.”

Furthermore, the groups strongly support Title II governance of broadband providers. They say that “Title II reclassification would afford the Commission substantial additional flexibility to ensure that broadband services are accessible to people with disabilities,” they wrote. “This additional flexibility is likely to prove particularly important as the telecommunications system moves from the public switched telephone network (‘PSTN’) to Internet Protocol (‘IP’)-based networks and diverse telecommunications modes emerge that substitute the Internet for the PSTN.” Many devices for handicapped accessibility require non-IP based telecommunications, and without regulation, these devices may not be updated to support modern equipment.

Title II regulation of broadband would apply regulation to ISPs similar to that of utilities, such as water and power. While the ISPs and some governmental supporters believe the FCC may not have this power, if implemented, US broadband access would be more tightly monitored for abuses, predatory pricing, and other anti-consumer measures such as the disability groups are concerned about. Additionally, the ISPs would be subject to independent ombudsmen deciding if the companies were taking advantage of their power over consumers.

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