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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

IP Transition Has Potential to Remove Barriers; NCIL Vows to Work with the FCC and Telecommunications Companies to Ensure People with Disabilities Are Prioritized

By Kelly Buckland, Executive Director, NCIL

In mid-December, the Federal Communications Commission held an Open Commission Meeting that included a presentation by the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force about a topic of interest to Independent Living advocates — the “IP Transition.” The “transition” refers to the move that millions of Americans are making from traditional “Plain Old Telephone Service” to IP-based networks, choosing to obtain their phone and internet service from faster IP networks rather than the century-old voice-centric telephone network. Over the next several years, more and more Americans will have the opportunity to make the same switch to much faster and more robust, capable networks.

Nothing About Us Without Us 2012 signFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently wrote a blog post about the benefits of the IP Transition, saying that switching to IP networks will “catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity.” I agree with Chairman Wheeler that this evolution has the potential to offer significant benefits to our country and our economy.

I also believe that the IP Transition can have profound benefits for people with disabilities and the Independent Living Movement. Greater access to broadband networks will enable more people with disabilities to live, work and connect in ways that previously may not have always been as wide spread.

For instance, universal access to IP networks will bring services such as video calling to more Americans.  This can expand telework opportunities, enable more people to live independently and of course improve communications for Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Additionally, expanded home automation services will also offer potentially greater benefits. Being able to automate certain tasks around the home such as locking the door, controlling the thermostat and switching appliances on and off remotely and from an accessible portal has the potential to make life much easier for people with and without disabilities and help enhance their independence. 

The potential upsides of this evolution outweigh the concerns, and as an advocacy organization, we are looking forward to the prospect of working with the FCC and telecommunications companies to ensure that people with disabilities experience these benefits.  We will work diligently to make sure that the needs of our community are recognized and considered throughout the process.  The FCC’s announcement that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Institute on Aging to research the use of IP technology to improve services for Americans who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing is a great step forward, and we have had similar positive conversations with companies like AT&T.

While our work to advocate for the needs of Americans with disabilities is never done, I am extremely optimistic about the IP Transition, and I look forward to the day when all Americans have access to the enormous benefits that IP networks can offer.

See Also: Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks and Markets