FCC Strengthens Captioning Rules to Enhance Accessibility to Video Programming on TV
Closed captioning is crucial for ensuring that our televised media are fully accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The provision of closed captioning depends upon the coordination of both video programmers and video programming distributors (VPDs) to both generate and deliver high quality caption content to viewers. To date, however, only VPDs have been directly subject to the Commission’s closed captioning rules, leaving half of the responsible parties unaccountable for the quality of their captioning.
On February 18, 2016, the FCC adopted changes to its rules to clarify the responsibilities of video programmers and video programming distributors for the delivery of closed captions for television programming and the quality of these captions. Programmers and distributors will each be responsible for these captioning obligations to the extent they have primary control over each issue.
The new rules also:
- Improve the captioning complaint procedures to include video programmers in this process. However, consumers may continue to file captioning complaints directly with their programming distributor (e.g., cable, satellite, or other providers that distribute programs directly to the home, as well as TV broadcast stations) or the FCC;
- Require video programmers to certify compliance with captioning obligations directly with the FCC.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued the following statement on the rulemaking:
“The action we take today ensures that the legal responsibilities imposed by our rules reflect the real world responsibilities of the parties involved in bringing television to viewers’ homes. Video programmers exert the most direct control over the creation of closed captions, and thus, as compared to VPDs, can exercise greater control over the non-technical quality components of closed captioning. At the same time, VPDs primarily have control over the technical aspects of captioning quality related to the pass-through and distribution of programming to end users.
The critical role that video programmers play in creating quality captioning justifies creating a new allocation of responsibility for compliance with the caption quality requirements. The shift in responsibility we adopt here, however, does not absolve VPDs of their responsibility to ensure accessible programming. This Order maintains current rules that place primary responsibility for the provision of closed captioning on television programming on VPDs, and VPDs continue to serve as principal points of contact for consumer captioning complaints.
Furthermore, upon receiving a complaint, the VPD must initially investigate it to determine the source of the problem and whether matters raised in the complaint are within its control. Only after the VPD has investigated the problem at its end, determines that the problem is not within its control, and certifies that it has exercised its due diligence will the burden shift from the VPD to the video programmer to resolve the complaint.
We believe that this new approach of shared responsibilities under our rules will greatly improve the quality of closed captions for millions of Americans who rely on this feature to understand television programming.”
Claude Stout, Executive Director of TDI, wrote in his letter of gratitude to FCC:
“With your action last Thursday, America was duly reminded once again that we the deaf and hard of hearing have an equal place with our hearing counterparts in this great country. You have acknowledged the fact that we are consumers like everyone else, and that we have contractual arrangements with those who serve our TV educational and entertainment needs. You are extremely sensitive to not making the complaint process a total burden on this special sector of the disability community. You are striving to make the complaint process work to all’s benefit, and functioning as everyone’s responsibility, including the Commission’s. For that, we are deeply grateful more than you will ever know.”
Indeed. Thanks to FCC’s crucial regulatory action last Thursday to adopt amendments to the Commissions’ rules on closed captioning of televised video programming, it helps to ensure that millions of Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing have full access to programming.
TDI salutes the Chairman’s leadership and the five Commissioners and their staff for their support for this vital accessibility area. Equally important, Karen Peltz Strauss, Gregory Hlibok, Eliot Greenwald, Suzy Rosen Singleton, and Caitlin Vogus for their direct role and substantive efforts for this topic. Gratitude also goes out to Alison Kutler for the CGB Bureau’s support for the Disability Rights Office. The Commission is dedicating all possible resources and effort to ensure that the TV industry does its part to raise our quality of life and standing in our respective local communities.
Links to the Captioning Quality Second Report and Order:
Links to the News Release:
For more information about closed captioning of televised video programming, visit: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/closed-captioning, or call the ASL Consumer Support Line at 844-432-2275, or email Eliot Greenwald at [email protected].