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Federal Communications Commission
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Washington, D.C. 20554
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Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

Report No. CS 98-15 CABLE SERVICES ACTION September 17, 1998

(MM Docket No. 95-176)

The Commission has adopted an order (FCC 98-236) revising the video programming closed captioning rules. With this action the Commission is responding to a number of petitions for reconsideration of the closed captioning rules. Section 305 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act added a new Section 713, Video Programming Accessibility, to the Communications Act and required the Commission to prescribe rules and implementation schedules for captioning. On August 7, 1997, the Commission adopted an order (FCC 97-279) that included rules and implementation schedules for captioning of video programming ensuring access to video programming by persons with hearing disabilities. Congress generally required that video programming be closed captioned, regardless of distribution technology, to ensure access to video programming by persons with hearing disabilities. Congress also recognized that in some situations requiring that programming be closed captioned might prove to be an economic burden on video programming providers or owners.

Following the adoption of the 1997 closed captioning order, the Commission received a number of petitions for reconsideration from programming interests and groups representing people with hearing disabilities.

Key elements of the closed captioning reconsideration order include:

  • An affirmation of the goal of providing full accessibility to video programming for people with hearing disabilities. In the Commission's Closed Captioning order, the Commission established a level of 95% of new nonexempt programming as the definition of accessibility. On reconsideration, the Commission defines full accessibility to be the captioning of 100% of all new nonexempt video programming.

  • The establishment of a benchmark for the closed captioning of pre-rule programming. The Closed Captioning order established a requirement that 75% of pre-rule nonexempt programming be captioned at the end of the transition period, and stated that it would monitor the implementation of closed captioning for pre-rule programming and would conduct a review of the industry's progress in four years. In this order, the Commission reiterates its intent to conduct such a review. The Commission also establishes a requirement that at least 30% of a channel's pre-rule programming be provided with captions beginning on January 1, 2003.

  • For a certain class of providers, the establishment of a cut-off date for the use of electronic newsroom ("ENR") technology as part of compliance with closed captioning requirements. ENR is commonly used for live programming, especially newscasts, and creates captions from a news script computer or teleprompter. Only material that is scripted can be captioned using this technique and, thus, within a program, live field reports, breaking news, sports and weather may remain uncaptioned. On reconsideration, the Commission finds the limitations of ENR to be a concern. Accordingly, beginning January 1, 2000, the class of video providers prohibited from using ENR for compliance with the rules will include the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC), broadcast stations affiliated with these networks in the top 25 television markets as defined by Nielsen's Designated Market Areas, and nonbroadcast networks serving 50% or more of the total of multichannel video programming distributor households.

  • A requirement that Spanish language programming be closed captioned. On reconsideration, the Commission adopts a 12 year transition for new nonexempt Spanish language programming and a 14 year transition period for pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language programming.

  • Revisions of the rules as applied to new networks. In recognition of the significant start-up costs faced by new networks, in the Closed Captioning order, the Commission established a four year exemption from the captioning requirements from the networks' launch date. In addition to networks launched after the January 1, 1998 effective date of the captioning rules, the Commission will extend the exemption to new networks that had not yet reached their fourth anniversary by that date. Those networks will be exempt for a four year period beginning on January 1, 1998. The Commission also declines to eliminate the so-called "drop-in" provision which requires new networks to meet existing benchmarks as they mature beyond the new network definition.

  • The Commission retains the requirement that complaints first be directed to the video programming distributor. The Commission also denies the request for recordkeeping requirements. The Commission plans to conduct random audits of captioning similar to the audits the Commission uses to monitor compliance with other rules, such as the children's programming requirements.

  • Maintaining the decision in the Closed Captioning order that short-form advertising is not required to be closed captioned.

  • The Commission reaffirms the existing benchmarks for new nonexempt programming.

Action by the Commission September 17, 1998, by Order on Reconsideration (FCC 98-236). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani.

-FCC -

News Media contact: Morgan Broman at (202) 418-2358.
Cable Services Bureau contact: Marcia Glauberman, John Adams at 418-7200
TTY: (202) 418-7172