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FCC Reopens Closed Captioning for Comments

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission is asking for updated feedback on two closed-captioning rulemakings. One was passed in 2005; the other in 2008. The first one alone generated 1,600 comments and ex parte letters.

“More than five years have passed since the commission sought comment on several very important matters relating to closed captioning of video programming,” the FCC’s notice stated. “During this period, there have been a number of changes in the provision of closed captioning on video programming.”

The transition from analog to digital broadcasting changed the way closed captioning was delivered and displayed, for example, and speech-to-text has come online since 2005.

Questions posed in the new comment cycle include whether or not the FCC should establish quality standards for non-technical aspects of closed captioning. Such standards may include “accuracy of transcription, spelling, grammar, punctuation and caption placement,” as well as the potential cost of adopting a standard. The FCC also wants to know if there’s enough captioners to even support a quality standard.

It’s also seeking information on procedures beyond pass-through, which requires TV distributors to literally pass through all closed-captioning on programming delivered by content creators. Compliance reports and noncompliance fines are also considered. The FCC further wants to know if the use of electronic newsroom technique should be disallowed in certain markets, and whether or not petitions for exemption should be filed electronically.

From the 2008 rules, the FCC is looking at the parameters for exemption. Those rules qualified stations generating revenues of less than $3 million. The new cycle seeks to establish if multicasts should be considered individually, or collectively, for the purposes of closed captioning.

Comments are due on CG Docket No. 05-231 and ET Docket No. 99-254 by Nov. 24, 2010. Replies are due Dec. 9, 2010.
-- Deborah D. McAdams