CVAA: Cable Ops Won't Have to Provide New Guide Info

The FCC has decided not to require cable operators to add new information to their onscreen program guides as part of a congressional accessibility mandate, according to a source familiar with the as-yet unreleased rules for what is billed as the last major element of its implementation of the Communications Video Accessibility Act. (CVAA).

Cable ops will have three years from OMB's sign-off of the implementation order to comply, but mid-sized and smaller operators will have up to five years.

The rules approved by the FCC this week, but not yet released at press time, deal with the accessibility for the blind and visually impaired of onscreen guides, and does not require that all boxes be compliant, only that compliant devices be made available upon request.

Cable-supplied boxes and software must be compliant, but cable ops won't be responsible for third-party boxes or software a consumer decides to download.

The FCC will also not require that cable ops be responsible for the accessibility of third-party supplied navigation devices. Those are all victories for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which opposed such mandates and wanted the FCC to clarify "on request" part of the mandates. NCTA had argued that the Act did not allow the FCC to mandate any new information--as PEG channel operators had asked for.

Essentially, the FCC decided not to mandate any additional guide information, only require that whatever was in the guides be accessible, though it will seek more info on the content of guides.

Cable ops will have to share the responsibility for making cable operator-developed navigation apps, like Cablevision's iPad app, accessible.

While larger cable ops will have three years to comply, the FCC will allow systems with 400,000 or fewer subs and not owned by one of the two largest operators up to five years to comply--they must request an extension--and systems of 20,000 or fewer subs no matter who owns them.

While the statute would have allowed the FCC to exempt those smallest of the small systems, the FCC did not choose to do so.

The FCC also issued a proposed notice of further rulemaking teeing up some questions, such as whether or not it should put requirements on what info should be in the guide. Some disability groups weighed in on the side of PEG operators, so the FCC decided to seek more info on the question.

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.