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FCC Grants NAB, ACA Emergency Info Waiver Requests

With the deadline hard approaching (the end of the day May 26), the FCC has granted various waiver requests from the National Association of Broadcasters and American Cable Association from the FCC's implementation of rules requiring emergency information provided visually during non-newscast programming be accessible audibly to the sight-impaired via a secondary audio channel.

Broadcasters got an extra six months of the May 26 compliance deadline, and a carve-out from the requirement for audio descriptions of maps and other non-textual graphics, but only for 18 months. The FCC also granted NAB's request that it not have to include audio descriptions of running school closure textual crawls.

"The record created in response to the NAB Petition shows that the technical solutions necessary for broadcasters to aurally transcribe emergency information text crawls on the secondary audio stream were not developed and brought to market in time for broadcasters to test and implement these solutions by the current May 26, 2015 compliance deadline," the FCC's Media Bureau said in granting the extension of the deadline until Nov. 30, 2015.

“NAB is pleased with the six-month extension granted by the FCC," said association spokesman Dennis Wharton. "We worked closely with the visually impaired community to persuasively demonstrate that many stations would be unable to comply with the May start date due to technical reasons beyond broadcasters’ control. We look forward to complying with the new deadline by Nov. 30.”

As for the graphics and other non-textual info, the FCC conceded there is not currently a reliable automatic solution, like text-to-speech, and also that the information is often duplicative of text. But it said in 18 months, broadcasters would need to be audibly delivering the key elements in such graphics.

As to the school closing requirement, the FCC granted a temporary waiver while it reconsiders the requirement for audible crawls, which broadcasters have said would be prolonged and inefficient.

ACA got a more time for certain hybrid analog/digital systems to comply with the rule, allowing them to provide free set top boxes to analog customers to access the audible info, but only "until such time that the hybrid system either obtains the equipment necessary to provide the secondary audio stream on their analog service or ceases providing broadcast stations in analog."

But the FCC "declined" ACA's request that it limit the number of boxes to three per household, saying cable ops should suppy as many as are needed.

ACA, which represents smaller and midsized operators, also got a waiver, with conditions, of the compliance deadline until Dec. 12, 2018.

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.