On February 20, 2014, the FCC released an Order that defines the components necessary for high quality closed captions on television. These new standards apply to television that is pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming and identifies best practices for video programmers, captioning vendors, and captioners. The new standards say what is meant by fully accessible closed captioning of television programs -- commonsense requirements not included in the original captioning order issued seventeen years ago in 1997. Concerned greatly by the errors in captioning that made them essentially unintelligible (when not completely missing!) to many viewers with disabilities, advocates first filed a petition in regard to quality of closed captioning in 2004. Now, ten years and several reviews later, here is what the FCC has come up with as new standards:
Must accurately convey dialogue and sounds in the program;
Must run from the beginning to the end of the program;
Must be timed so that they generally do not lag far behind the program’s dialogue;
- Must appear at a speed that viewers can read;
Must be placed so they do not block other important information on the screen;
Local news programs that are not captioned in real-time must have pre-scripting of sports, weather, and most late-breaking stories;
- Crawls and other visual information be used if pre-scripting is not possible;.
Also, video programming distributors -- cable and satellite TV companies and TV broadcasters -- must get certification from video programming providers of (1) their compliance with the new captioning quality standards, (2) that they adhere to the new Best Practices or (3) don't have to provide captions under the allowable exemptions. The FCC also affirmed and made explicit that TV distributors are responsible for ensuring they keep their captioning equipment working properly via routine technical checks, as they pass through the captioning provided by programmers, to avoid loss of captions or sending through gibberish. The FCC did not adopt a base forfeiture amount for violations of the rules. The FCC did require that petitions for exemption from the captioning requirements be filed electronically.
The new rules will be evaluated again one year after the they go into effect. Also, this Report and Order includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that seeks comment on captioning responsibilities, and on other ways to improve access to television programming. The dates of the comment and reply comment period for this next round of closed captioning quality will be announced later. Links to the Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:
COMPLAINTS: To complain about bad or no captioning on television program, file a complaint with the FCC, information here.