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Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554
In the Matter of )
ACC Licensee, Inc. ) File No. EB-04-TC-100
Licensee of WJLA-TV ) Facility ID No. 1051
Washington, D.C. ) NAL/Acct. No. 200532170009
) FRN: 0007517576
Apparent Liability for )
NOTICE OF APPARENT LIABILITY FOR FORFEITURE
Adopted: May 25, 2005
Released: May 25, 2005
By the Acting Chief, Enforcement Bureau:
1. In this Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture
(``NAL''),1 we find that ACC Licensee, Inc. (``ACC'') apparently
willfully or repeatedly violated section 713 of the
Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the ``Act''),2 and
section 79.2(b)(1)(i) of the Commission's rules.3 ACC apparently
violated the Act and the Commission's rules by failing, in a
timely manner, to make accessible to persons with hearing
disabilities emergency information that it provided aurally in
its programming for WJLA-TV during a thunderstorm/tornado watch
in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area on May 25, 2004.
Based upon our review of the facts and circumstances, we find
ACC apparently liable for a forfeiture in the amount of $8,000.
2. Approximately one in ten Americans - 28 million - has
some level of hearing loss; in the population of people over 65
years of age, that number increases to one in three.4 As the
median age of the population continues to rise, the proportion of
Americans with hearing loss will likely increase.5 According to
the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ``[t]he number
of Americans with a hearing loss has evidentially doubled during
the past 30 years. Data gleaned from Federal surveys illustrate
the following trend of prevalence [of hearing loss] for
individuals aged three years or older: 13.2 million (1971), 14.2
million (1977), 20.3 million (1991), and 24.2 million (1993).''6
Access to television information in an emergency is critical for
all Americans, including this important and growing segment of
A. Requirements for Accessibility of Emergency Information
3. Congress recognized how important visual access to
televised information is to individuals with hearing
disabilities, and required the Commission, pursuant to section
713 of the Act,7 to prescribe rules regarding Video Programming
Accessibility. Pursuant to this direction, and out of a concern
that critical emergency information be available to every
television viewer, including persons with hearing disabilities,
the Commission adopted section 79.2 of the rules.8 Section
79.2(b)(1)(i) requires that video programming distributors
providing emergency information in the audio portion of
programming must provide persons with hearing disabilities with
the same access to such information that distributors provide to
listeners, either through a method of closed captioning or by
using another method of visual presentation.9
4. The Commission's rules do not require closed
captioning,10 but allow for other methods of visual presentation,
including, but not limited to, open captioning, crawls, or
scrolls.11 The Commission stated that it was permitting these
alternatives because it was concerned about the limited ``real-
time'' captioning resources available and their current costs.12
The Commission made clear, however, that regardless of the method
of visual presentation used, video programming distributors must
``use [a] method of visual presentation [that] ensure[s] the same
accessibility [to emergency information] for persons with hearing
disabilities as for any other viewer, as required by the
rule.''13 This could include already prepared signs or charts or
handwritten information contained on a white board.14 The
Commission mandated equal accessibility because emergency
information is of ``equal or greater importance to persons with
hearing disabilities, and television plays a critical role in its
dissemination.'' 15 Further, it is clear from the Commission's
definition of emergency information, i.e., information about a
``current'' emergency that provides critical details concerning
``how to respond to the emergency,''16 that the Commission
required video programming distributors to display emergency
information in a timely manner so that viewers can respond to a
current emergency before becoming endangered. The Commission
long ago recognized the importance of timeliness of providing
emergency information, noting that ``if visual notification is
delayed, it should not be unreasonably delayed so that a hearing
impaired person would not have time to take reasonable and
constructive precautions with regard to the emergency.''17
5. The Commission defined emergency information in
section 79.2 as ``information, about a current emergency, that is
intended to further the protection of life, health, safety, and
property, i.e., critical details regarding the emergency and how
to respond to the emergency,''18 not merely the existence of an
emergency.19 The rule provides the following non-exhaustive list
of examples of the types of emergencies covered: ``tornadoes,
hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions,
heavy snows, widespread fires, discharge of toxic gases,
widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil
disorders, school closings and changes in school bus schedules
resulting from such conditions, and warnings and watches of
impending changes in weather.''20 The Commission further stated
that critical details included, among other things, ``specific
details regarding the areas that will be affected by the
emergency, evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to
be evacuated, specific evacuation routes, approved shelters or
the way to take shelter in one's home, instructions on how to
secure personal property, road closures, and how to obtain relief
assistance.''21 Since the adoption of the rules, the Commission
repeatedly reminded video programming distributors of their
obligation to make emergency information accessible.22
B. The Investigation
6. On May 25, 2004, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan
area was subject to a severe thunderstorm/tornado watch. The
Commission received a consumer complaint against WJLA-TV alleging
that the station failed to make information concerning the
thunderstorm/tornado watch accessible to persons with hearing
disabilities. According to the complaint, this failure created
confusion about the severity and location of the emergency for
those viewers. In the words of the complainant, ``I saw street
maps with some kind of color coding and a computer cursor moving
around the screen, but had no idea what the cursor was singling
out or what the code was for the different colors.''23
7. The Enforcement Bureau (``Bureau'') subsequently
launched an investigation into ACC's broadcasts carried on WJLA-
TV on that date.24 The Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry to ACC,
directing ACC to provide, among other things, videotapes of ACC's
May 25, 2004 coverage of the thunderstorm/tornado watch on WJLA-
TV.25 ACC filed a response that included the requested
videotapes.26 ACC also filed a supplemental response.27
8. The Bureau has reviewed ACC's tapes of WJLA-TV's
programming and identified at least one instance where the
station aurally provided emergency information regarding the way
to take shelter in one's home but substantially delayed the
visual presentation of that emergency information. Specifically,
at approximately 6:50 p.m., meteorologist Doug Hill told viewers
located between Leesburg and Lucketts in Virginia to take cover
in their homes, go to the basement or an interior room, and cover
themselves with blankets and quilts.28 ACC did not provide
closed captioning or any other visual presentation of this
shelter-in-place emergency information on WJLA-TV until
approximately 9:22 p.m., over two and a half hours later.
9. As an initial matter, we note that ACC is a ``video
programming distributor'' subject to section 79.2 of the
Commission's rules. Section 79.1(a)(2) defines a video
programming distributor as ``[a]ny television broadcast station
licensed by the Commission....''29 As a broadcast licensee, ACC
must comply with the Commission's rules regarding the
accessibility of emergency information to persons with hearing
10. We now turn to an analysis of the information
broadcast by ACC over WJLA-TV during the time period at issue.
ACC interrupted its regular programming with coverage of the
thunderstorm/tornado watch on several occasions. ACC's
meteorologist repeated emergency information many times,
emphasizing the areas where the thunderstorm or tornado was
located and was likely to cause damage or loss of life, warning
viewers to take shelter in their homes, and providing
instructions for safe sheltering. However, as described in the
NVRC a consumer complaint, most of the visual information ACC
provided, such as weather maps, did not reveal the danger of a
tornado to persons with hearing disabilities, much less how they
should take shelter in response to the threat.30 Thus, while ACC
visually presented some information during this period, mostly
concerning the location of the worst weather, it appears that in
at least one instance ACC did not make critical information
available to persons with hearing disabilities.
11. The record shows that, at 6:50 p.m., ACC aurally
provided critical emergency information to viewers in specific
locations on the way to take shelter in one's home, but provided
visual presentation of this information only after a substantial
delay of over two and a half hours.31 The information in
question concerning the need to and the way to take shelter in
one's home falls squarely within the Commission's definition of
``emergency information'' because it is ``[i]nformation, about a
current emergency, that is intended to further the protection of
life, health, safety, and property, i.e., critical details
regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency.''32
Indeed, the Commission offered this category of information as an
example of critical details covered by the rule.33 In addition,
the Commission offered tornadoes and warnings and watches of
impending changes in weather as examples of covered
emergencies.34 We note that ACC used crawls to convey emergency
information during regular programming on May 25, 2004 and it
could have easily used the same format to visually present the
shelter tips at issue here. In addition, ACC's own evidence
indicates that it provided charts showing shelter tips several
times during a previous tornado emergency on July 10, 2003,35 and
could have shown those same or similar charts on May 25, 2004.
12. ACC did not, however, provide these shelter instructions
in either a crawl or a sign at the time it broadcast the
instructions aurally. Instead, ACC waited over two and a half
hours to display the instructions visually. Providing emergency
information visually more than two and a half hours after the
same information has been provided aurally is tantamount to not
providing the information at all. Providing visual information
after this lengthy delay is of no use to individuals with hearing
disabilities. Accordingly, based on the facts and circumstances
present here, we find ACC liable for an apparent violation of
IV. FORFEITURE AMOUNT
13. For the time period at issue in this case, section
503(b)(2)(A) of the Communications Act authorized the Commission
to assess a forfeiture of up to $27,500 for each violation of the
Act or of any rule, regulation, or order issued by the Commission
under the Act.36 In exercising such authority, we are required
to take into account "the nature, circumstances, extent, and
gravity of the violation and, with respect to the violator, the
degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to
pay, and such other matters as justice may require."37 Based on
our review of the record, we conclude that ACC is apparently
liable for the willful or repeated violation of our rules.
14. The Commission's forfeiture guidelines do not
currently establish a base forfeiture amount for violations of
section 79.2(b)(1)(i). Enforcement of the emergency
accessibility rules is important, as lives may depend on
compliance. We find that $8,000, the base forfeiture amount for
violations of rules relating to distress and safety frequencies
and for failure to install and operate Emergency Alert System
(``EAS'') equipment, is analogous and warranted for apparent
violations of section 79.2(b)(1)(i).38 The purpose of the EAS
and safety frequencies rules is to warn persons of emergencies,
and the purpose of section 79.2(b)(1)(i) is the same. ACC
provided aural emergency information without providing visual
presentation for approximately two and one half hours, resulting
in one apparent violation of the rule. Accordingly, we propose a
forfeiture of $8,000 for the apparent violation here. ACC will
have the opportunity to submit further evidence and arguments in
response to this NAL to show that no forfeiture should be imposed
or that some lesser amount should be assessed.39
V. CONCLUSIONS AND ORDERING CLAUSES
15. We have determined that ACC Licensee, Inc. has
apparently willfully or repeatedly violated section 713 of the
Act and section 79.2(b)(1)(i) of the Commission's rules by
failing to make emergency information that it provided to hearing
people accessible to persons with hearing disabilities, resulting
in a proposed forfeiture of $8,000.
16. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED, pursuant to section
503(b) of Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §
503(b), and section 1.80 of the Commission's rules, 47 C.F.R. §
1.80, that ACC Licensee, Inc. IS HEREBY NOTIFIED of an Apparent
Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $8,000 for willful or
repeated violations of section 713 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 613,
and section 79.2(b)(1)(i) of the Commission's rules, 47 C.F.R. §
79.2(b)(1)(i), as described in the paragraphs above.
17. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to section 1.80 of
the Commission's rules, 47 C.F.R. § 1.80, that within thirty (30)
days of the release of this Notice, ACC Licensee, Inc. SHALL PAY
the full amount of the proposed forfeiture OR SHALL FILE a
response showing why the proposed forfeiture should not be
imposed or should be reduced.40
18. Payment of the forfeiture must be made by check or
similar instrument, payable to the order of the Federal
Communications Commission. The payment must include the
NAL/Acct. No. and FRN No. referenced above. Payment by check or
money order may be mailed to Federal Communications Commission,
P.O. Box 358340, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-8340. Payment by overnight
mail may be sent to Mellon Bank /LB 358340, 500 Ross Street, Room
1540670, Pittsburgh, PA 15251. Payment by wire transfer may be
made to ABA Number 043000261, receiving bank Mellon Bank, and
account number 911-6106.
19. The Bureau will not consider reducing or canceling a
forfeiture in response to a claim of inability to pay unless the
petitioner submits: (1) federal tax returns for the most recent
three-year period; (2) financial statements prepared according to
generally accepted accounting principles (``GAAP''); or (3) some
other reliable and objective documentation that accurately
reflects the petitioner's current financial status. Any claim of
inability to pay must specifically identify the basis for the
claim by reference to the financial documentation submitted.
20. Requests for payment of the full amount of this
Notice of Apparent Liability under an installment plan should be
sent to: Chief, Revenue and Receivables Operations Group, 445
12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554.41
21. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that copies of this Notice of
Apparent Liability for Forfeiture SHALL BE SENT by certified mail
to Jerald N. Fritz, Senior Vice President, Legal and Strategic
Affairs, Allbritton Communications Company, 1100 Wilson
Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Kris A. Monteith
Acting Chief, Enforcement Bureau
1See 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(4)(A). The Commission has authority
under this section of the Act to assess a forfeiture penalty
against a broadcast licensee if the Commission determines that
the licensee has "willfully or repeatedly" failed to comply with
the provisions of the Act or with any rule, regulation, or order
issued by the Commission under the Act. For a violation to be
willful, it need not be intentional. Southern California
Broadcasting Co., 6 FCC Rcd 4387 (1991).
247 U.S.C. § 613.
347 C.F.R. § 79.2(b)(1)(i).
4See Section 68.4(a) of the Commission's Rules Governing Hearing
Aid-Compatible Telephones, WT Docket No. 01-309, Report and
Order, 18 FCC Rcd 16753, at para. 5 (2003) (HAC Report and
Order); Erratum, WT Docket No. 01-309, 18 FCC Rcd 18047 (2003)
5See HAC Report and Order, 18 FCC Rcd 16753, at para. 5..
tm (visited May 24, 2005) (citations omitted).
747 U.S.C § 613.
8Closed Captioning and Video Description of Video Programming,
Implementation of Section 305 of the Telecommunications Act of
1996, and Accessibility of Emergency Programming, Second Report
and Order, 15 FCC Rcd 6615, 6621-22, para. 12 (2000) (``Second
Report and Order'').
947 C.F.R. § 79.2(b)(1)(i).
10Second Report and Order, 15 FCC Rcd at 6620, para. 11.
11Id. at 6618, para. 8.
12Id. at 6621, para. 11.
13Id. at 6623-24, para. 16.
14See generally, Amendment of Part 73 of the Rules to Establish
Requirements for Captioning of Emergency Messages on Television,
Report and Order, Docket No. 20659, 61 FCC2d 18 (1976) (1976
Order), at paras. 9, 11 and Appendix B (relating to prior visual
presentation requirements and noting potential use of slides and
hand printed messages).
15Id. at 6619-20, paras. 9, 10 (citing examples of the importance
of timely visual emergency information including an inaccessible
tornado warning that caused delay in evacuation of children and
an inaccessible water contamination warning that caused persons
with hearing disabilities to needlessly incur health risks of
which they were not initially aware). In attempting to determine
the scope of this rule, the Commission expressed concern that the
disabilities community have available ``sufficient information''
with the ``same immediacy'' as other viewers. Closed Captioning
and Video Description of Video Programming, Implementation of
Section 305 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and
Accessibility of Emergency Programming, Further Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking, 13 FCC Rcd 5627, 5631 (1998). In addition
to the plain meaning of the phrase ``emergency information,'' the
nature of the critical details described in section 79.2(a)(2)
makes clear that timely visual presentation is required.
1647 C.F.R. § 79.2(a)(2).
17 1976 Order, 61 FCC2d 18, at para. 11.
19Second Report and Order, 15 FCC Rcd at 6617, para. 5.
20Id. (emphasis added)
21Note to 47 C.F.R. § 79.2(a)(2) (emphasis added).
22See, e.g., Public Notice, ``Reminder to Video Programming
Distributors of Obligation to Make Emergency Information
Accessible to Persons with Hearing Disabilities,'' 16 FCC Rcd
15348 (2001); Public Notice, ``Reminder to Video Programming
Distributors of Obligation to Make Emergency Information
Accessible to Persons with Hearing or Vision Disabilities,'' 17
FCC Rcd 14614 (2002); Public Notice, ``Reminder to Video
Programming Distributors of Obligation to Make Emergency
Information Accessible to Persons with Hearing or Vision
Disabilities,'' 18 FCC Rcd 14670 (2003); Public Notice,
``Reminder to Video Programming Distributors of Obligations to
Make Emergency Information Accessible to Persons with Hearing or
Vision Disabilities,'' 19 FCC Rcd 9882 (May 24, 2004); Public
Notice, ``Reminder to Video Programming Distributors of
Obligation to Make Emergency Information Accessible to Persons
with Hearing or Vision Disabilities,'' DA 05-688, 20 FCC Rcd___,
2005 WL 626867 (Mar. 17, 2005). See also Letter from Colleen
Heitkamp, Chief, Telecommunications Consumers Division,
Enforcement Bureau, FCC, to Fred Ryan, President and General
Manager, WJLA-TV (Apr. 22, 2004).
23Complaint filed by Cheryl A. Heppner, Executive Director,
Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Persons (''NVRC'') (filed May 28, 2004) (``NVRC Complaint'').
NVRC is located in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington,
24ACC is a subsidiary of Allbritton Communications Company and
licensee of WJLA-TV and is a video programming distributor as
defined in our rules. FCC Form 323; 47 C.F.R. § 79.2(b)(1)(i).
As a video programming distributor, ACC is obligated to provide
to persons with hearing disabilities the same access to emergency
information that it provides to listeners of its programming. 47
C.F.R. § 79.2(b)(1)(i).
25Letter from Colleen K. Heitkamp, Chief, Telecommunications
Consumers Division, Enforcement Bureau, FCC, to ACC Licensee,
Inc. (June 7, 2004) (``Letter of Inquiry'').
26Letter from Jerald N. Fritz, Sr. Vice President, Legal and
Strategic Affairs, to Peter G. Wolfe, Senior Attorney, FCC (June
28, 2004) (``Response'').
27Letter from Jerald N. Fritz, Sr. Vice President, Legal and
Strategic Affairs, to Peter G. Wolfe, Senior Attorney, FCC (July
28WJLA-TV did not provide the times of the broadcasts on all
parts of the tapes. Therefore, these times are approximate based
upon (1) the starting times WJLA-TV provided on the tapes
themselves and (2) the starting point for particular news
segments as set forth in WJLA-TV's Response, Item #1.
2947 C.F.R. § 79.1(a)(2).
30See NVRC Complaint.
31See supra para. 8.
3247 C.F.R. § 79.2(a)(2). In addition, the information here was
primarily intended for the audience in the geographic area where
the emergency was occurring. 47 C.F.R. § 79.2(b)(2).
33Note to 47 C.F.R. § 79.2(a)(2).
3447 C.F.R. § 79.2(a)(2).
35Response, Exhibit 5.
36Specifically, section 503(b)(2)(A) provides for forfeitures up
to $25,000 for each violation or a maximum of $250,000 for each
continuing violation by (i) a broadcast station licensee or
permittee, (ii) a cable television operator, or (iii) an
applicant for any broadcast or cable television operator license,
permit, certificate or similar instrument. 47 U.S.C. §
503(b)(2)(A). The Commission amended its rules by adding a new
subsection to its monetary forfeiture provisions that
incorporates by reference the inflation adjustment requirements
contained in the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA),
Pub L. No. 104-134, § 31001, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Thus, the
maximum statutory forfeiture per violation pursuant to section
503(b)(2)(A) increased from $25,000 to $27,500. See Amendment of
Section 1.80(b) of the Commission's Rules and Adjustment of
Forfeiture Maxima to Reflect Inflation, 15 FCC Rcd. 18,221
(2000). We note that the Commission recently increased the per
violation amount again to $32,500. See Amendment of Section
1.80(b) of the Commission's Rules and Adjustment of Forfeiture
Maxima to Reflect Inflation, 2004 WL 1366972, FCC 04-139 (rel.
June 18, 2004); 69 FR 47788 (establishing an effective date of
September 7, 2004).
37See 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(2)(D); see also The Commission's
Forfeiture Policy Statement and Amendment of Section 1.80 of the
Commission's Rules, 12 FCC Rcd 17,087 (1997); recon. denied, 15
FCC Rcd 303 (1999).
38See 47 C.F.R. § 1.80(b)(4).
39See 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(4)(C); 47 C.F.R. § 1.80(f)(3).
40If ACC chooses to respond, it should mail its response to
Colleen Heitkamp, Chief, Telecommunications Consumers Division,
Enforcement Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th
Street, S.W. Room-4C224, Washington, D.C. 20554. ACC must
include the file number listed above. It should also send an
electronic copy of its response to Mark Stone, Deputy Chief,
Telecommunications Consumers Division, at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Peter Wolfe, Senior Attorney, Telecommunications Consumers
Division, at email@example.com.
4147 C.F.R. § 1.1914.