02 March 2011 ~ Comments

COAT Petitions FCC For Better Broadcast Captions

It’s a good time to live in America, when almost everything is captioned for the information and convenience of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Still, there are programs that don’t have to be captioned – a holdover from the days when captioning was expensive, more time consuming and could put smaller programming providers right out of business.

Although they are outdated, the rules still stand.

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) filed a petition with the FCC in January 2011, urging the universal captioning of TV. They are pressuring the FCC to rescind several captioning exemptions that no longer make sense, including those for:

  • late night programming airing between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
  • commercial and political advertising
  • locally produced non-news programming
  • interstitials, promotional announcements and public service announcements
  • channels with annual revenues of less than $3 million

It’s easier and less expensive to produce captions now, and petitioners assert that some of the rules should be eliminated altogether, or at least amended, as in the $3 million revenue exemption.

COAT affiliates are also asking that the electronic newsroom technique not count toward compliance requirements. With ENT, teleprompter scripts are used to create the captions. That means that all scripted words show up in the captions, but live shots, breaking news, weather reports and asides made by the newscasters would not be available to those depending on captions.

Petitioners are also asking the FCC to overturn the 2006 Anglers Exemption Order, which granted exemptions to non-profit organizations that did not receive compensation for their programming from the channels where they were aired – in this instance, religious programming. The order specified that non-profits were exempt if not getting the exemption meant programming might be substantially curtailed. The petitioners say hundreds of exemptions were granted this way, but without really following the letter of the law.  [view the petition by clicking here]

With the passage of the 21st Century Communication Act, it looked like captions would be everywhere, all the time. But the legislation didn’t require changes to broadcast TV, instead focusing on accessibility as it relates to internet programming and devices that receive programming.

Because of rules implemented in 2010, citizens can file complaints about missing or incomplete captions directly with the FCC.

FCC Online Complaint Form

Contact them at:

fccinfo@fcc.gov (e-mail)
(866) 418-0232 (fax)
(888) 225-5322 (phone)
(888) 835-5322 (TTY)

or by mail at:

Federal Communication Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

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