FCC Continues to Modify Accessibility Rules Governing Program Guides and Closed Captioning

The FCC has amended its accessibility rules to add new requirements for audible on-screen program guides and activation mechanisms for closed captioning and video description. It also proposed additional rule changes that would require MVPDs and device manufacturers to make it easier for consumers to customize the size, color and placement of closed captions.

Specifically, the Second Report and Order adopted on November 20, 2015:

  • requires MPVDs and video programming device manufacturers to publicize the availability of audible on-screen program guides (including through notices on official websites);
  • requires MVPDs and video programming device manufacturers to ensure that qualified customer support and product information for such guides, including on websites, are made available in an accessible format to persons with disabilities and delineates specific customer service training topics to be considered by MVPDs and video programming device manufacturers in meeting the new customer support obligations;
  • reversed its prior determination concluding that closed captioning activation mechanisms may not rely exclusively on voice controls but kept voice controls as an option if another tool, such as a gesture controlled mechanism, is also provided; and
  • affirms that closed captioning and video description activation mechanisms that rely on gesture controls meet the rules’ requirements of simple and easy to use, and thus will be deemed compliant.

Significantly, the FCC declined to adopt a rule that would have required MVPDs to include more detailed information in program guides for PEG channels, recognizing that doing so was outside the scope of its authority under Section 205 of the CVAA. However, the FCC strongly encourages MVPDs to make additional PEG channel information available voluntarily. Commissioner Pai issued a separate statement expressing skepticism about the FCC’s authority to extend the customer support obligations to Section 205 devices but declined to dissent.

In its FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on its proposal to amend its rules to “ensure that consumers are able to readily access user display settings for closed captioning.” There is general concern among MVPDs and manufacturers that such a requirement will be extremely burdensome. Among the comments requested by the FNPRM are those related to: whether the FCC has authority to implement the rules; how to best achieve this requirement, including whether such settings should be included in the first menu level; the appropriate time frame for compliance; the steps the industry already is taking to facilitate easier access to display settings; and the cost and benefits of any such requirements, including the impact such requirements would have on small entities. Comments are due 20 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register.