Closed Captioning Rule Changes Coming March 16th

Posted on December 31st, 2014 by

This past February, the FCC adopted some new closed captioning requirements for TV stations, but staggered the effective dates of the new rules. Yes, you guessed it. This article tells you that the effective dates are right around the corner. But the good news is that instead of becoming effective in January, the effective date is now March 16, 2015.

There are two portions of the new rule that kick in on that date. The first one requires stations to begin to “maintain records” of their efforts to monitor the station’s closed captioning and captioning equipment. For a minimum of two years, a TV station must maintain “information about the station’s monitoring and maintenance of equipment and signal transmissions to ensure the pass-through and delivery of closed captioning to viewers, and technical equipment are maintained in good working order.” The records have to be submitted to the FCC upon request, but do not have to be placed in the public file.

The second new rule kicking in on March 16, 2015 requires TV stations to make “best efforts” in obtaining certifications from each programmer on the station about the quality or existence of closed captioning in their programs. The programmer must certify to at least one of three things – (1) that the program satisfies the new caption quality standards set forth in section 79.1(j)(2) of the new captioning rules, or (2) that in the ordinary course of business, the programmer has adopted and follows the best practices set forth in section 79.1(k)(1) of the new captioning rules, or (3) that the programmer is exempt from the captioning rules under one or more exemptions.

Stations can satisfy their “best efforts” obligation by locating a programmer’s certification on the programmer’s website or other available locations used for the purpose of posting widely available certifications. But if a station can’t find the certification, it has to inform the programmer in writing that the programmer must make the certification widely available within 30 days of receiving the notice. And then, if the programmer does not cooperate, the station has an affirmative obligation to promptly report the programmer to the FCC (the “tattle-tale” component). By following these steps, the station will not be liable for violating the FCC’s captioning quality rules.

If this all seems wildly complicated and over-regulated, you would be correct. But there is a small glimmer of hope. The FCC just issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking input on captioning obligations for programmers. Among other things, the FCC seeks input on whether some of these obligations should be shifted to the programmer itself. The deadline for comments has not yet been set.