On November 29, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) Enforcement Bureau released an order requiring ViaTalk, LLC, an interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) provider to take specific steps to remedy violations of the Commission’s disability access rules.
The ViaTalk Enforcement Order requires ViaTalk to conduct a call with the aggrieved customer within 28 days to help him regain full access to his VoIP service. The Order further requires ViaTalk to establish, within 30 days, processes to ensure that (1) complaints by individuals with disabilities are referred promptly to a ViaTalk representative authorized to resolve the matter and (2) ViaTalk will document all efforts to resolve such complaints and will retain such documents for two years.
In August, the FCC cited ViaTalk for failing to ensure that subscribers with disabilities have access to the same product support information as its non-disabled customers and failing to file the mandatory annual compliance certification, signed by an officer of the company, for a number of consecutive years. The citation is discussed at length in our ViaTalk Citation Advisory.
The Commission referred the case to the Enforcement Bureau to determine the proper remedy for ViaTalk’s non-compliance.
The proceeding shows that under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”) and Section 255 of the Communications Act, it is not enough for telecommunications manufacturers, suppliers and service providers (including I-VoIP and non-interconnected or “one way” VoIP providers) to only make their products and services accessible to persons with disabilities. These companies must also ensure that their products and services are “usable,” as explained below.
The Usability Requirement: All it takes to get the enforcement ball rolling is a complaint from a disgruntled consumer
In the telecom disability rights landscape, “usability” refers broadly to the ability of people with disabilities to learn how to use covered products and services, including their accessibility features, effectively and independently.
To fulfill this goal, FCC regulations require equipment suppliers and service providers to ensure access to information and documentation provided to other customers for customers with disabilities. Such information and documentation includes user guides, bills, installation guides for end-user installable devices and product support communications regarding both the product in general and the accessibility features of the product.
The usability requirement applies to practically everyone in the chain of telecommunications product development and distribution, to telecommunications providers generally, as well as to advanced communications services (“ACS”) and end-user equipment used to access them. ACS include interconnected VoIP, non-interconnected VoIP, electronic messaging, and interoperable video conferencing services.
The ViaTalk Enforcement Order reinforces that the FCC takes alleged accessibility and usability violations seriously. Although the Enforcement Bureau has not assessed any monetary penalties against ViaTalk at this time, ViaTalk and other non-compliant covered entities continue to face steep fines if they fail to make covered products accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
If you are concerned that your covered products or services may not comply with the CVAA or other accessibility laws, or that your products or services lack accessible supporting information or documentation, please contact Michal J. Nowicki, Esq., at (703) 714-1311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being blind himself, Mr. Nowicki has more than five years of experience with the CVAA and a strong passion for accessibility. In addition to advising clients on a wide range of accessibility issues, he has presented at educational webinars alongside key accessibility leaders, including the Chief of the FCC Disability Rights Office and the VP of Marketing at 3Play Media: a prominent closed captioning and audio description provider. Mr. Nowicki also proudly serves as the elected treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, which, along with its national organization, state affiliates, and local chapters, advocates for and on behalf of blind Americans.