Section 718 of the Communications Act – 47 USC 619 – requires that Internet browsers built into telephones used with public mobile services be accessible to people who are blind or have a visual impairment. The requirements of this section only require that browsers be accessible if the manufacturer includes them in the phone – if they are added later or provided as part of a third party application, there is no requirement to make them accessible. Manufacturers can satisfy this requirement by either directly providing an accessible browser or by ensuring that a third party solution is available to the user at nominal cost.
The regulations governing these requirements are defined in 47 CFR 14 Subpart E – Internet Browsers Built Into Telephones Used With Public Mobile Services. The rules were defined in the FCC report and order 13-57 (FCC 13-57) and essentially reiterate the statutory language of 47 USC 619. This language requires that mobile phone manufacturers or distributors (service providers) ensure the accessibility of the browser in the phone to people who are blind or visually impaired.
It should be noted that no specific technical standards defining accessibility of a browser – and by extension what is needed to conform to Section 718 – are defined in the current proposed rules. The rules do, however, note specific sections of the requirements noted as part of 47 CFR 14 which relate to the usage of technology by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Essentially this means that a similar process as to what is used to determine conformance for ACS services can be used to determine conformance with this section. As with the ACS requirements, SSB recommends organizations consult with AMP or a similar accessibility requirements management platform as part of developing technical standards to govern the accessibility of browsers.
The requirements of this section state that manufacturers of mobile phones must ensure that if it is achievable, browsers included in the phone be accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired. The statute and proposed regulations restrict the scope to browsers included with a phone at the time of manufacture. If a browser is added to the phone later or installed by the user as a third party application, there is no requirement that the manufacturer make it accessible.
A plain language reading of the statute and proposed regulations would indicate that it does not include other devices that like tablets or laptops. As part of the report and order on the ACS, the FCC lists devices that are not phones – and by extension not covered – and includes computers, laptops and tablets in the list (FCC 11-151¶27). However, when such a device contains a data modem, it is unclear if the device is now covered under the term “telephones used with public mobile services.” This term is statutorily defined (47 USC § 610 (b) (4) (B)) to mean “telephones and other customer premises equipment used in whole or in part with air-to-ground radiotelephone services, cellular radio telecommunications services, offshore radio, rural radio service, public land mobile telephone service, or other common carrier radio communication services covered by Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, or any functionally equivalent unlicensed wireless services;” Under 47 CFR 14, customer premises equipment means “equipment employed on the premises of a person (other than a carrier) to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications.” While unlikely given the plain language of the law, this may be construed in practice to include other devices that include cellular modems.