FCC makes permanent the national Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program
WASHINGTON, August 4, 2016 – The Federal Communications Commission today adopted an order to make permanent its program that provides communications equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The Commission launched the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), also known as “iCanConnect,” as a pilot program in 2012. Since then, the program has provided up to $10 million annually to support programs that distribute communications equipment, helping Americans with hearing and vision loss to connect with family and friends and become more independent.
Through iCanConnect, consumers who are deaf-blind and who meet income guidelines can receive free equipment designed to make telecommunications, Internet access, and advanced communications services accessible. Installation, training, and other technical support are also available. To date, thousands of Americans with hearing and vision loss have benefitted from the pilot program. Breaking down accessibility barriers for this population has afforded Americans with combined hearing and vision loss a means to enhance social interaction, acquire information, and obtain skills and training to become gainfully employed.
Today’s action, in the form of a Report and Order, uses the lessons learned over the past four years of the pilot program to adopt rules that will ensure a seamless transition to a permanent program that is efficient and effective. First, the rules maintain the program structure used in the pilot program, by which the Commission certifies one entity per state or territory to distribute equipment and provide related services. These certified entities may carry out these responsibilities either on their own or through collaborative arrangements. In addition, as was previously the case in the pilot program, a single entity can apply for certification to serve the residents of multiple states. The new rules also maintain existing certification criteria, which include expertise in the field of deaf-blindness, the ability to communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf-blind, adequate staffing and facilities, and experience with the distribution and use of communications equipment. Additionally, for the permanent program, the Commission will begin considering an entity’s administrative and financial management experience as a criteria for certification. Read more.