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FCC sets six-month deadline for Internet closed captioning

The FCC’s Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee delivered its report on closed captioning last week, setting in motion a six-month time period for new rules requiring captions on the Internet.

“Given the goal of providing closed captioning for television programming delivered over the Internet, the fundamental performance objective is that regardless of how the captioned video is transmitted and decoded, the consumer must be given an experience that is equal to, if not better than, the experience provided as the content was originally aired on television,” the report, dated July 13, said.

The law requires the FCC to release advanced captioning rules within six months of receiving the report. Next January, captioning for live and near-live programming must be online. By next July, all prerecorded programming “substantially edited” for the Internet must be captioned.

The report recommends performance objectives, technical standards and regulations. No information can be lost in the transcoding process, including spelling, positioning, timing and presentation.

Carriers of Internet media must support closed-captioning and end-user display in terms of language, character color, opacity, size, edge, background and font. Exemptions may be granted for certain features. For example, a gray-scale screen may be substituted for color choices. “User settings are new to players which support Internet-delivered video, and will require time and effort to implement,” the report said.

The new rules allow for Internet delivery of the single standard interchange format now used for digital television. Distributors can transcode for various playout options — such as proprietary or browser-based players — as long as the captioning characteristics are maintained.

WGBH-TV in Boston first introduced closed captioning in the 1970s on Julia Child’s PBS program, “The French Chef.” Congress mandated closed captioning for most television programming in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. President Obama extended closed captioning to Internet-distributed TV shows last October with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.