FCC Community Tours seek local input about communications service, rules, scams and more
SEATTLE -- The Federal Communications Commission is touring the Pacific Northwest this week to share information and address questions about telephone, internet, radio, wireless and TV service.
The FCC says the goal of its Community Outreach Tour is to provide information and resources, and warn consumers about ongoing scams that use communications technology.
Some people who attended the Seattle session came prepared with questions about technology they feel has room for improvement.
Viola Cruz and her husband came all the way from Tumwater to hear the FCC's presentation at the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle.
Cruz has been blind since birth. Her husband is also blind. She wants to know why the FCC doesn't require networks and cable companies to offer more video description on TV.
When a program is broadcast with video description service, the descriptions are inserted into natural pauses in the program's dialogue.
Video description allows people with limited or no vision to understand what's happening, when no one's talking. Say, for example, as the main character is sneaking out of the house and running to an awaiting car driven by a friend, or animals on a nature program that are frolicking in the snow.
"There's a second track on the show. And if you have a TV that has secondary audio programming and you turn it on, you can hear the narrator describing things to you," Cruz explained.
Jeanne Jacobs, who came with her guide dog, has the same concerns and said the descriptions would really help with commercials that often never vocally describe the product.
FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Deputy Director, Roger Goldblatt and his colleagues on the panel shared alerts about robocall scams, telephone bill cramming and other ways scammers target our telephones, telephone bills, and internet services.
Community Outreach Specialist Rebecca Lockhart explained upcoming local broadcast changes:
"The way the TV stations will transmit the frequency of the channels to your home, is changing," said Lockhart. "You will have to re-scan your TV or converter box."
FCC's Alma Hughes shared tips on preparing for outages and using communications technology in natural disasters.
"Always make sure your cell phone is fully charged. Your computer, you have important information on it. Because- I know a storm is coming, I'm going to back up all my important data," said Hughes.
Cruz, Jacobs and the others who attended said they found the information helpful but some, including Cruz, wanted detailed answers about specific communications technology issues.
"We haven't talked about video description yet," said Cruz after patiently waiting through the presentation.
Through a digital video hookup to Washington, D.C., the FCC's disability rights attorney Will Schell explained that the FCC's video description rules just changed in June- from a requirement of 50 hours per quarter, to 87.5 half hours per quarter. That's about 7 hours of video description service per week- including children's programming and prime time.
But Cruz says for the millions of people who can't see, that's not enough.
Cruz and her husband acknowledge that they were pleased to learn school closures, snow delays and emergency alerts on the crawl along the bottom of the TV screen will have voice narration.
But with closed captioning now required on virtually all programming to aid people who cannot hear, they say it's not right to only require 7 hours a week of video description for selected material, for people who cannot see.
"If you, as an individual were limited to 7 hours a week of TV, would you really be happy with that?" Cruz asked.
FCC representatives say that's the kind of feedback they need to hear. The more they hear from people, the better they can understand how consumers are being impacted by FCC decisions.
The FCC's Pacific Northwest Community Outreach Tour continues through Thursday.