FCC Expands Audio Descriptions for Broadcast TV

FCC seal
(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—The FCC has adopted an order to expand access of broadcast TV programming to blind or visually impaired.

In April, the FCC voted unanimously—and unopposed by industry, said FCC chairman Ajit Pai—to propose to require 40 more TV markets (DMAs 61-100) to provide audio descriptions of video programming but also wants to know if the current pandemic changes any part of the equation.

At Tuesday's public meeting Tuesday (Oct. 27), the commission made that expansion official.

Per the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), FCC rules currently require certain stations in the top 60 markets to provide that service to the blind and visually impaired. But CVAA also said that by the end of this month, the FCC had to expand that to the top 100 markets, adding 10 new markets per year, if it concluded it was not to expensive.

The FCC on Tuesday (Oct. 27) voted to conclude it was not too expensive for programmers or distributors. The new markets will be added starting no later than Jan. 1, 2021.

The item also signals the FCC will revisit the issue in 2023 to see if it should add more markets beyond the top 100. The item also changes the FCC's terminology from the previous "video description" to the current term of art, "audio description."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel spoke from the heart and personal experience in celebrating the expansion of audio descriptions.

"It was 10 years ago this month that the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act became the law of the land," she said. "I remember the day the bill was signed. That’s because I was in the room, deep in the audience, present because I had the privilege of working on this legislation when I served as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

"[T]his legislation was a big deal. It built on the foundation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and helped pry open opportunity in the digital age, by expanding access to technology for millions with disabilities. There’s another reason that the glory of that moment lingers. At the signing ceremony, I sat near Stevie Wonder, who had helped champion this legislation. This was a good day. But what’s better still, is that the Federal Communications Commission is still at it. A decade in, and we are still using this law to expand access and improve opportunities for those with disabilities."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio WorldTV TechTV FaxThis Week in Consumer ElectronicsVariety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.