Comment Deadlines Set for Closed Captioning Accessibility

Closed captioning on Acorn TV's Jack Irish
(Image credit: Acorn TV)

With its publication in the Federal Register, the comment deadlines for the Federal Communications Commission's request for input on making multichannel video programming distributors' (MVPDs) closed captioning settings more accessible have been set.

Initial comments are due February 17 and replies March 4.

The FCC is revisiting a 2015 proposal to require manufacturers and MVPDs to make closed captioning display settings on TV sets “readily accessible“ to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and whether to expand that potential mandate beyond TV sets to the wealth of other video display technologies in an IP, over-the-top world.

Among the issues on which the FCC’s Media Bureau wants comment on is whether both device manufacturers and MVPDs should be responsible for making sure consumers can find and use the closed captioning display setting controls.

The FCC proposed the display rules in 2015 under Democratic then-chairman Tom Wheeler. The initial comment period closed, though, and the agency took no action on the item in the ensuing six years. Under new chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC‘s Media Bureau is reopening the issue to “refresh the record,” signaling action could now be taken.

Also: FCC Convenes Forum on OTT Closed Captioning

The FCC adopted a mandate in 1990 that TV receivers have the circuitry to display closed captions, and in 2000 adopted display and performance standards to allow users to customize captions by changing font, size, color and more.

In 2010, Congress passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which expanded the closed captioning display and function requirements to any “apparatus designed to receive or play back video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound,” which now covers a host of technologies for accessing traditional and online video. But while the rules require equipment functionality, they do not mandate how those must be provided to the user.

Also: Advocates, Industry Spar at FCC Over Strict Caption Mandates

The FCC said there are ongoing complaints about the difficulty of accessing those settings via a remote or on-screen menu.

Enter the 2015 proposed rules to mandate ready access, on which no action was taken but which drew a lot of comment from industry players who questioned the FCC's authority to impose new device mandates.

The FCC wants new input on that authority issue, as well as, given the complaints it has received, “to what extent are manufacturers and MVPDs currently ‘making caption display settings accessible via mechanisms reasonably comparable to a button, key or icon,‘ such as ‘a button on the remote or access through the first level of a menu.‘” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.