Washington Watch: Web Accessibility, Net Neutrality, Privacy and COICA

President Obama Signs Bill Before Members of Congress and Stevie Wonder

Congress, DOJ Extending ADA to Web and Digital Applications

The 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act was marked by two initiatives to make cyberspace easier for the disabled to access.  The first is that the Justice Department announced plans to begin rulemaking proceedings on establishing web accessibility standards under the ADA which would extend to “governmental entities and public accommodations covered by the ADA that provide goods, services, programs, or activities to the public via Web sites on the Internet.”  Making a website accessible under the ADA generally requires adjusting HTML code to include textual references to visual items, Last year the National Federation for the Blind won a $6 million settlement from Target for failing to make their site accessible to the visually impaired. A good overview of what constitutes a compliant site can be found at http://www.onextrapixel.com/2010/04/19/accessibility-101-an-introduction/.

In addition, President Obama signed the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” to modernize disability accessibility mandates in the Communications Act, bringing existing requirements up to date as TV and phone services connect via the Internet and use new digital and broadband technologies.

More Info: Justice Department Guide on Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites, WebAim’s Website Accessibility Checklist, National Federation for the Blind Page on Target Litigation and Settlement (including steps Target agreed to implement); President Obama’s Signing Statement.

Barton Blocks Net Neutrality Bill

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) confirmed that a compromise proposal that would have imposed net neutrality principles for a two-year period while prohibiting the Federal Communications Commission  (FCC) from reclassifying broadband services as telecommunication services which are subject to full FCC regulation has failed due to the opposition of Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX).  Barton, who had been Committee Chairman prior to the Democrats taking over the House in 2006 and would likely be Chairman again should Republicans regain the House in this election, indicated that there was a consensus among House Republicans that “is not appropriate to give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet.”

More Info: Waxman Net Neutrality Bill A No-Go, For Now, Daily Online Examiner.

Industry Supports Privacy Legislation,
But is Pushing For Controversial Anti-Piracy Legislation

While Microsoft, Intel and eBay have voiced support for Rep. Rush’s privacy legislation, there is little indication that there will be any action on the bill in the short-term.  Industry groups, including Activision, Disney. Entertainment Software Association, Johnson and Johnson, Louis Vuitton. Major League Baseball, Motion Picture Association of America. NBC Universal, Newscorp, Nike, Sony Music Entertainment. Tiffany and Co., Time Warner, Universal Music Group, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Viacom, Warner Music Group and  are pushing for Congress to act on the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA).  Wired Magazine has called the bill the “Holy Grail of intellectual property enforcement” as it would enable the Justice Department to get court orders to shut down entire websites if any portion is deemed to be engaged in the illegal sharing of intellectual property.  Critics label the bill the Internet Censorship and Copyright Bill and were successful in blocking consideration prior to the pre-election recess.

More Info: Three Major Tech Firms Back Rush’s Privacy Bill, Tech Daily Dose; U.S. Senators Continue War On Internet with “Online Infringement” Bill, American University Intellectual Property Brief; Electronic Frontier Foundation COICA Page.