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FCC Grants NAB, ACC Emergency Info Waiver Requests

With the deadline hard approaching (the end of the day on 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 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 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.

ACA got 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 operators should supply 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.

“ACA understands the importance of the FCC’s requirement that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast video programming be made audibly accessible to individuals who are blind and visually impaired; therefore, ACA is deeply appreciative of the Media Bureau’s decision to grant ACA’s request for a pair of narrowly tailored waivers for certain analog-only and hybrid analog/digital systems from the requirement to pass through the emergency information on a secondary audio stream," said ACA president Matt Polka. "These waivers will give some very small and financially constrained cable systems serving a tiny proportion of cable subscribers the much-needed additional time to come into compliance with the pass-through rule and allow other systems to serve their subscribers through the alternative of providing free set-top boxes to enable access to audible emergency information."

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.