FCC Captioning Order Actually About Complaint Process

On the surface, the Nov. 4 FCC order on closed captioning for the digital era appears to be nearly a no-brainer; essentially, closed caption requirements in the analog era extend to DTV.

But perhaps of more consequence to broadcasters (and cable and satellite companies) are the requirements that video providers grease the skids for those wishing to file complaints against them. At least, that’s the view of one Washington law firm.

“In the guise of looking at closed captioning requirements for digital television and easing the complaint filing process, the Commission has added new contact information posting and filing requirements for television stations and other video programming distributors,” attorney Anne. G. Crump wrote on the blog of the Washington, D.C., law firm Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.

In her interpretation, the most significant operation change in the order is that video providers clearly provide contact information so viewers can easily direct complaints.

“Apparently, a major issue has been that viewers have been uncertain as to whom they should contact with questions and problems,” she wrote Thursday. “In order to alleviate that perceived difficulty, the Commission will now require that two different types of contact information be made available. While these new information requirements should prove useful, they also set up a trap for the unwary.”

Among the details video providers must keep in mind: Telephone, e-mail and fax information must be available in telephone directories, on Web sites (for those who have a Web site) and, for pay providers, in their bills; updates of changing personnel must be furnished to the FCC within 10 days; video providers must be able to handle calls by Telecommunication Relay Services for the deaf and hard of hearing; they must respond to viewers within 24 hours; and they have to assist viewers in resolving complaints (about, say, garbled or missing closed captions) instead of just pointing fingers somewhere else in the process, such as a network, programmer, or TV set.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein described the order as streamlining the complaint and resolution process. “Since its inception, our process for ensuring that video programmers meet these [captioning] obligations has been unnecessarily complicated,” he said in a statement.

Commissioner Michael Copps said the order makes it easier for consumers to get help, and he repeated his call for a working group on the matter within the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee. Robert McDowell also praised the streamlining and simplification of the complaint process. Deborah Tate Taylor did not mention the complaint process in her brief statement, and Chairman Kevin Martin did not issue a statement on the order.