FCC Approves New Closed Captioning Rules

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The Federal Communications Commission has approved more comprehensive rules for TV closed captioning to ensure that viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing have full access to programming. Specifically, the Order requires that captions be:

  • Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible.
  • Synchronous: Captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible and must be displayed on the screen at a speed that can be read by viewers.
  • Complete: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
  • Properly placed: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another, or run off the edge of the video screen.

The Order distinguishes between pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming and explains how the new standards apply to each type of programming. The Order recognizes the greater hurdles involved with captioning live and near-live programming. It also includes best practices for video programmers and captioning vendors and measures to ensure that people who are deaf and hard of hearing will have greater access to news programming in their local communities.

In addition, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling clarifying existing rules defining requirements for “on demand” programming, bilingual English and Spanish programming, obligations of low power television stations, and video programming distributor contact information. The Order also is accompanied by a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on reapportioning some of the captioning responsibilities and on ways to further enhance accessibility to television programming and improve the Commission’s procedural rules.

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