FCC Proposes Extending Audio Description Mandate to More Markets

(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—The FCC is seeking public comment on adding more markets to its audio description rules for TV stations, voting unanimously to approve a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on Thursday. 

The rules, which have been in place since the passage of the  Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, originally applied to stations in the Top 60 Neilsen markets. At the time of passage, Congress gave the commission the authority to add 10 more markets per year, “if it determines that the costs for program owners, providers, and distributors in those additional markets are reasonable.”

In 2020, the commission voted to extend the rules to 40 more markets, with 10 new markets added per year until 2024. In its vote this week, the commission proposed adding 10 more annually until all 210 DMAs fell under the audio description mandate, with all markets covered by 2035.

Targeting the blind and visually impaired, audio description for TV involves adding narrative during programming in which dialogue is not occurring, describing scenes, action and other non-verbal aspects. 

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has a long history with the technology.

“It was more than a decade ago that Congress made audio description generally available when it passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act,” she said. ”It’s a law I know well because I worked on it as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. When it was passed, it required that the Commission make audio description available on programming in the largest 60 television markets across the country. A little over two years ago, the Commission expanded this requirement …  Today we propose to finish the job by reaching all 210 markets in the United States.”

Deadline for public comment is not yet known and the commission take a final vote prior to the new changes.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.