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Caption Action Guide


Table of Contents

  • 100% Captioning of TV Programs? Not Exactly.
  • Special Requirements for News Programs
  • Sending a Complaint
  • Visual Presentation of Emergency Information

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN) has prepared this Caption Action Guide to give you information about what must be captioned as of January 1, 2006, when the requirements for captioning of many television programs increased. We’ve also included up-to-date information about how you can send a complaint about programs that are not captioned as required, or have problems with the captioning.


100% captioning of TV programs? Not exactly.

On January 1, 2006, 100% of NEW programs, both analog and digital, must be closed-captioned. But that doesn’t mean that you will be able to change from channel to channel and see everything on your television with captions.

These programs do not require 100% closed captioning:

  • English or Spanish language programs first shown before January 1, 1998, or for digital captions, before July 1, 2002: only 30% must be captioned.
  • All new Spanish language programs must be captioned. As of January 2005, 30% of pre-rule Spanish language programming must be captioned until 2012 when it goes up to 75%


These programs are not required to be closed-captioned at all:

  • Most programs shown from 2 am to 6 am local time.
  • Locally-produced and distributed non-news programs with no repeat value, such as parades and school sports events.
  • Commercials of five minutes or less.
  • Instructional programs produced locally by public TV stations for use in grades K-12 or postsecondary schools
  • Programs in languages other than Spanish and English
  • Programs shown on new networks for the first four years of the network’s operations
  • Public service announcements and promotional ads of less than 10 minutes
  • Programs by providers with an annual gross revenue under $3 million (but these programmers must still “pass through” the captions of any programs that already have them)


Special requirements for news programs

TV news programs also must provide 100% closed captioning as of January 1, 2006.

ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and their affiliates must realtime caption their news in the “top 25” television markets. Realtime captioning should display captions for everything that is being spoken.

The country’s top 25 markets for the 2009/2010 television season are:

2009/2010 U.S. TV Household Estimates
Designated Market Area (DMA) — Ranked by Households – Top 25

Rank 2009-2010 Designated Market Area (DMA) TV Households % of US

New York, NY 7,493,530 6.524
Los Angeles, CA 5,659,170 4.927
Chicago, IL 3,501,010 3.048
Philadelphia, PA 2,955,190 2.573
Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX 2,544,410 2.215
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA 2,503,400 2.179
Boston, MA (Manchester, NH) 2,410,180 2.098
Atlanta, GA 2,387,520 2.079
Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD) 2,335,040 2.033
Houston, TX 2,123,460 1.849
Detroit, MI 1,890,220 1.646
Phoenix, AZ 1,873,930 1.631
Seattle-Tacoma, WA 1,833,990 1.597
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota), FL 1,805,810 1.572
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN 1,732,530 1.508
Denver, CO 1,539,380 1.340
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL 1,538,090 1.339
Cleveland-Akron (Canton), OH 1,520,750 1.324
Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL 1,466,420 1.267
Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA 1,404,580 1.223
St. Louis, MO 1,249,450 1.088
Portland, OR 1,188,770 1.035
Pittsburgh, PA 1,154,950 1.005
Charlotte, NC 1,147,910 1.000
Indianapolis, IN 1,119,760 0.975
NSI TOP 25 TOTAL U.S. 56,368,170 49.162

Source: Nielsen Media Research, Inc.
Copyright © 2009 The Neilsen Company All Rights Reserved
Nielson Station Index (NSI)
Local Television Market Universe Estimates
*Estimates used throughout the 2009-2010 television season and are effective September 21, 2009

Non-broadcast networks (such as cable), which serve at least 50% of households subscribing to video program services, must also caption their news realtime.
All other newscasts are allowed to caption with electronic newsroom technique (ENT). This type of captioning is pre-scripted, which results in significant gaps in captioning where breaking news, live news updates, ad-libbed banter between anchors and reporters, live studio interviews, and live reports from the scene are taking place. Sports and weather segments are typically unscripted.

Sending a complaint

1. Put it in Writing
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees and enforces the regulations for TV closed captioning. You may send your complaint either directly to the FCC and/or your TV “distributor” within 60 days of the captioning problem. If you file with the FCC, the FCC will send your complaint to your video programming distributor. The distributor must respond within 30 days.

2. Your Distributor: Who to Write, Where to Send the Complaint

If you use an antenna to receive your TV signal, write to General Manager of the TV station that the program came from. You can find the address of the station in your local telephone book.
If you use cable or satellite TV service, write to the General Manager of the cable or satellite company. The address should be on your cable or satellite bill.
You may search for contact information provided by video programming distributors to the FCC for closed captioning concerns and complaints at:
Filing Options

· Online
You can file your complaint by using the FCC’s online Disability Access Complaint Form #2000C at!formSelection.action

· Email
File your complaint by email to

· Fax
Fax your written complaint to 1-866-418-0232

· Letter
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

For More Information:

· Go to for more information about filing complaints, or call the FCC for assistance, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST), at 1-888-225-5322 or 1-888-835-5322 TTY.

· See the Closed Captioning Factsheet at for more information about closed captioning.


You may file your complaint with the video programming distributor (the TV station or your cable or satellite TV service). The distributor must respond to your complaint within 30 days. If the distributor cannot solve the problem, or you are not satisfied with the response you receive (or if you receive no response), you can send your complaint to the FCC.

New Video Programming Distributors Contact Information Requirements

The FCC also adopted new rules requiring video programming distributors to make their contact information available to consumers. Specifically, video programming distributors are required to make two kinds of contact information available:

1. Contact information for the receipt and handling of immediate closed captioning concerns by consumers, such as when

a. captions suddenly disappear or

b. become garbled while watching a program.

2. Contact information for written closed captioning complaints.

Both types of contact information must be provided on the video programming distributor’s website, in billing statements (when billing statements are issued), and when extended listings are published in telephone directories. This contact information will soon be available in a searchable database on the FCC website. This contact information will also be available by calling the FCC call the FCC for assistance, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST), at 1-888-225-5322 or 1-888-835-5322 TTY.

3. What to Put in the Complaint

Give as much detail as you can. This will help identify what needs to be fixed. Here are some things to include:

Start the letter with, “This letter is sent in regard to FCC rules at 47 CFR Part 79.1”
Give your full address, daytime phone number (TTY, Video, or Voice) and/or email address.
List the TV shows that were not captioned or had a captioning problem, with the TV channel name and number. Also include the date and time of the shows.

CSI had no captioning on WBX 4 on January 4, 2006 from 9-10 pm.
American Idol on WNYC 12 lost captions from 8:45 to 9 pm on January 6, 2008.
Desperate Housewives on WKSR 9 captions disappeared during the first commercial break at 9:10 pm.
CNN did not have captioning from 12 to 1 pm even though it always has, and the TV listings in the newspaper said it would be captioned.
Please send a copy of your complaint to DHHCAN (in care of TDI) at this mailing address, 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 604, Silver Spring, MD 20910 or fax it to (301) 589-3797.

4. What to Do After Sending the Complaint

If you do not have a satisfactory response in 45 days, contact the FCC with a copy of the written complaint that you sent to the TV distributor. Include a copy of the distributor’s response, if any. Send both letters to:
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

Visual presentation of emergency information

Visual presentation of emergency information is required of broadcast, cable, and satellite TV providers. This is covered under a different regulation, and you can send complaints directly to the FCC.

Emergency information is defined as any information that is intended to protect life, health, safety or property.

Some examples of things that qualify as an emergency are:

Dangerous weather — hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, tidal wave, icing conditions, heavy snow, widespread fire, warning and watch of impending change in weather
Dangerous situations — widespread power failure, discharge of toxic gas, industrial explosion, civil disorder, school closing, and changes in school bus schedules resulting from conditions.
Information that must be presented visually if it is provided audibly:

Specific details about the areas that will be affected by the emergency
Evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to be evacuated, specific evacuation routes
Approved shelters or how to take shelter in one’s home
Instructions on how to secure personal property
Road closures
How to obtain relief assistance
Note that this requires visual information but not necessarily captioning. Theoretically any effective means of providing all this information could be used, including holding up signs.

In advance, DHHCAN expresses its special gratitude for your interest and participation for full compliance with the FCC regulations on TV captioning.