Corrected March 10 at 1 p.m. ET to sight-impaired
According to sources familiar with the item, FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski has circulated an order that would give broadcasters two
years to translate emergency crawls into audio for the blind and
sight-impaired. According to sources at the FCC, some in industry had sought a
three-year phase-in, while accessibility advocates had wanted a year.
The FCC does not apply the mandate to over-the-top delivery
-- cable ops had suggested that was an issue for another day -- but the order
is accompanied by a Notice of Proposed Further Rulemaking that asks how the
mandate should apply to IP-delivered services or to the migration of
programming to TV everywhere platforms like phones and tablets.
The order implements two portions of the Twenty-First
Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 having to do with
making sure that emergency information in crawls and graphics that break into
regular programming are accessible.
The order is responsive to both an April deadline for the
part relating to broadcast and cable operators, and an October adoption
deadline targeted to makers of programming. "The chairman wanted to try
and wrap up both at the same time," said a source.
The FCC will require broadcasters to air a tone along with
on-screen crawls or graphics signaling to the sight impaired to switch to a
second audio channel (SAP), where broadcasters must air an audio version of the
text or a description of the graphic.
Cable operators and other MVPDs will have to pass along
those descriptions. Some broadcasters, pointing to the difficulty of providing
audio for crawls and graphics that are not delivered as text, had suggested the
tone could signal the hearing impaired to tune to the radio for emergency info,
but the FCC wasn't going for that, said one source.
The National Association of Broadcasters had asked that the
mandate apply only to critically urgent information pointing out that not every
crawl during a storm "identifies an urgent issue directly affecting life,
health, safety or property," for example having to translate the entire
list of school closings. The FCC provides some flexibility in the order to deal
with those situations.
Only the chairman had voted the item at presstime. But it is
expected to be approved.