Broadcasters and broadcast engineers are in agreement: They can’t meet the deadline for audio alerts in non-news programming and need more time to figure out a solution.
In implementing the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the FCC set a May 26 deadline for broadcasters to provide aural representations of visual emergency information—crawls, radar images—on a second audio stream during non-news programming. These would resemble the emergency weather alerts during regular programming warning of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, making that information accessible to the blind and visually impaired.
The National Association of Broadcasters has asked the FCC for a temporary exemption until November, because it says the software needed to aurally transcribe crawls has not been supplied yet by vendors in some cases; also, they say, more time is needed for testing and shipping.
The NAB also wants more time to translate graphics into speech because radar maps and other moving graphic images do not contain text files that can be converted. In other words, “The ability to comply with the requirement,” the association says, “does not exist now.”
NAB also wants a temporary waiver from the requirement to make aural representations of lengthy school-closing crawls.
The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) confirms that assessment and has told the FCC that the rules cannot be complied by May 26. “At the present time, no industry or other standard, voluntary or mandatory has been established to determine how each vendor will perform and execute the [text-to-speech] test and evaluate the specifications of each vendor’s product in order to engineer a switching solution for each particular station configuration.”
What about the school closings? The FCC requires each closing to be repeated twice as they are crawled across the screen. But given that they are often long lists and can change in real time, SBE says, while it can be done, complying fully could take up a half-hour or more, and would require all the available space on the secondary channel, making it unusable for a second-language feed or video description.
SBE says its members will ultimately be able to overcome all those issues, only not by May 26.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has made accessibility a key issue in his chairmanship, and one he seems clearly passionate about, so it is unclear whether broadcasters will get that extra time.
According to one source, last week’s NAB convention featured lots of contingency talk among station managers about how to comply if the waiver is not granted.
NEW ORDERS IN THE COURT
The D.C. Federal Appeals Court is expected to rule in the next few weeks on the challenges by NAB and Sinclair to the incentive auction. That, however, may not be the end of the legal wrangling over the FCC’s efforts to reclaim broadcast spectrum.
Both the smallest television stations—low-powers—and the largest Telecom carriers, AT&T and Verizon, could throw new legal monkey wrenches in the works with suits of their own.
Mike Gravino, who heads the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, says that unless the FCC is able to resolve the coalition’s petitions to reconsider the May auction framework report and order—and depending on what the FCC says in its upcoming LPTV report and order—they will likely take the commission to court on one or both of those. According to Gravino, that case could extend into spring, 2016. “NAB/Sinclair is just the first of three or more legal challenges, and LPTV will be in the others,” he says.
AT&T has expressed concerns that the FCC is withholding too much low-band spectrum for competitive bidders. If the telco decided to take the commission’s auction rules to court, it could wind up delaying the proceedings as well, since it would take months to brief, hear oral arguments and come up with a decision.
AT&T had no comment, but did refer B&C to a blog posting about requests for a bigger reserve and a lower reserve trigger price. “The weight of these cumulative proposals,” reads the post, “is starting to raise significant questions about the workability of the proposed reserve framework.”
The FCC does not have those months to rework frameworks and rules and still meet its self-imposed early 2016 deadline for auctioning the broadcast spectrum.