Disabled Access Complaints Against Equipment Manufacturers and Providers of Advanced Communications Services Can Begin as Soon as the FCC Re-Opens

As of October 8, 2013, all advanced communication products and services offered in interstate commerce must be compliant (including products and services previously offered) with the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s”) disabled access requirements, and consumers can begin filing complaints with the FCC as of that date. Covered entities should ensure that the internal contact identified on their FCC registration is prepared to address any Requests for Dispute Assistance once the government shutdown is resolved and the FCC is back to work.

In late 2011, the FCC released a Report and Order implementing provisions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CVAA”) to ensure that people with disabilities have access to advanced communications services (“ACS”). Generally, ACS is one-way VoIP, electronic messaging (email, text, IM) and interoperable video conferencing.

The FCC has been implementing these requirements in stages over the past several years. The CVAA and the Report and Order complement longstanding rules that require equipment manufacturers and providers of telecommunications services (and more recently interconnected VoIP service providers) to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities. In January, we issued a Client Advisory describing the requirements in detail.

Covered entities were required to file an annual certification with the FCC no later than April 1, 2013 that also acted as a registration as an ACS equipment manufacturer or service provider. The certification was required to identify a contact that can address consumer complaints. Before filing an informal complaint, an individual with or without a disability or a consumer group must file a Request for Dispute Assistance with the FCC containing specified information. The FCC will forward the Request to the identified contact person at the applicable manufacturer or service provider and begin a 30 day settlement process with the consumer.

These rules became effective on October 8, 2013. Once the FCC re-opens after the government shutdown, these Requests can be filed with the Commission. Covered entities should be prepared to address any Requests that may be filed.