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Court Delays Findings on Deaf Users’ Netflix Access

(CN) - Netflix can stay claims that it failed to provide equal access for the deaf and hard of hearing, pending an investigation about close-captioning for Internet media, a federal judge ruled.

The National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix, the leading American provider of online streaming media, in June for not providing equal access to its Watch Instantly on-demand service. It alleges that Netflix has refused to make close-captioned text available for the deaf and hard of hearing.

According to the 2011 Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report, cited in the complaint, Netflix's Watch Instantly site is the "biggest source of Internet traffic in the U.S."

Nevertheless, a third-party database, Instant Watcher, noted that less than 5 percent of Netflix's Watch Instantly titles offered captions, as of June 2011, according to the complaint.

Netflix allegedly excludes deaf people from the opportunity to stream movies and television shows in their homes, "increasing the sense of isolation and stigma that the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to redress."

The California-based company moved to dismiss under the "first-filed" rule, arguing that this matter duplicates a March 2011 case in the Northern District of California.

U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor denied the motion but granted a stay pending rulemaking action by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC is expected to release advanced captioning rules in response to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

"The FCC's determination 'lies at the heart' of the matters at issue here, its expertise will throw light on some technical aspects of the case, and its determination will be of assistance to the court," Ponsor wrote.

The case will be stayed until Feb. 6, 2012, "on the assumption that the FCC's rule-making process will be complete before the end of January 2012," the court ruled.

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