Please stand by


Broadcasters, cable systems and other multichannel providers must provide on-screen displays of critical emergency information in order to assist the hearing-impaired, the FCC said last week. The mandate applies only to video providers that transmit emergency information and doesn't affect outlets that choose not to offer emergency updates. The rule was necessary because new closed-captioning requirements do not go into full effect until 2006.

"This is really a matter of life and death for millions of Americans," said FCC Chairman William Kennard. Last week's rules rely on outlets to make "good faith" efforts to determine which information is critical, but guidance provided by the FCC includes any data necessary to protect life, health and property, such as evacuation orders, shelter locations and identification of affected areas. Emergencies include severe weather, chemical spills, power failures, explosions, civil disorders and school closings.

Broadcasters are also given flexibility to determine whether to provide the information via closed captioning, which is provided only through a station's auxiliary signal and must be decoded, or via a scroll across the conventional picture. The NAB originally opposed new captioning rules but, when they seemed inevitable, pushed for stations to have the freedom to judge what information is critical. FCC officials said they will reexamine the emergency rules as the deadline nears.