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FCC Seeks Greater Clarity on IP Video Captioning Rules


Last month, the FCC released an Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that clarified a number of aspects of the FCC’s complex closed captioning requirements for video programming delivered using Internet Protocol (IP) and the devices used by consumers to view it. In the FCC’s words, the Order and Further Notice was issued to “affirm, modify, and clarify certain decisions” made by the Commission last year implementing closed captioning requirements for video programming distributed via IP.

The original IP captioning rules were adopted in January 2012 in response to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice has now been published in the Federal Register, and the rules adopted in the Order are set to take effect on August 1, 2013. For those who would like a refresher on the CVAA and the IP requirements, you can find my previous posts on the subject here and here.

In the Further Notice adopted simultaneously with the Order, the Commission asked for comment on imposing “closed captioning synchronization requirements for covered apparatus, and on how DVD and Blu-ray players can fulfill the closed captioning requirements of the statute.” Based on the publication of the Further Notice in the Federal Register, comments on the Further Notice are now due on September 3, 2013, and reply comments are due September 30, 2013.

The bulk of the Order is largely a response to three Petitions for Reconsideration filed in connection with last year’s Report and Order, which adopted rules governing the closed captioning requirements for owners, providers, and distributors of IP-delivered video programming, as well as the closed captioning capabilities of devices used by consumers to view video programming. The Petitions were filed by the Consumer Electronics Association, TV Guardian, and a coalition of consumer groups, respectively.

Highlights of the FCC’s Order and Further Notice include:

  • Refusing to limit covered devices to those intentionally designed to play back video programming, but clarifying the rule and issuing two class-based waivers in response to requests by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to exclude equipment such as digital cameras and baby monitors;
  • Clarifying that the January 1, 2014, deadline for devices to be equipped to display closed captioned video programming applies to the date of manufacture of the apparatus, and “not to the date of importation, shipment, or sale”;
  • Reaffirming its decision to allow video programming providers and distributors to select either the rendering or pass through of captions to end users; and
  • Delaying a final decision regarding whether video clips (i.e., “excerpts of full length programming”) should be included within the scope of covered programming until more information is collected as part of another public notice that the FCC plans to issue within the next six months.

The CEA had requested that the FCC narrow the applicability of the closed captioning equipment requirements to cover only those devices intended by the manufacturer to receive, play back, or record IP video programming, rather than broadly applying the rules to any device with a video player.

In response, the FCC revised its definition of “apparatus” to make clear that “video players” requiring captioning capability include only those that display “video programming transmitted with sound.” The FCC declined to limit the requirement to only those devices intentionally designed to play back video programming, but clarified its rule and issued two class-based waivers excluding from the requirement equipment such as still digital cameras and baby monitors, which play back consumer generated images and not IP “video programming” as defined by the CVAA.

The following two classes of “apparatus” qualify for the waiver:

(i) devices that are primarily designed to capture and display still and/or moving images consisting of consumer-generated media, or of other images that are not video programming as defined under the CVAA and our rules, and that have limited capability to display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound … and (ii) devices that are primarily designed to display still images and that have limited capability to display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound.

The FCC also decided to delay the January 1, 2014 compliance deadline for DVD players that do not render or pass through closed captions. According to the Commission, that extension was granted to give the FCC more time to collect data regarding additional costs that might be imposed by adding IP captioning functionality to low-cost devices like DVD and Blu-ray players. The extension does not apply to other removable media players or to DVD players that already have the ability to caption.

Regarding the TV Guardian Petition, the FCC denied the Petition, which had requested that the Commission prohibit video programming providers and distributors from rendering captions where passing through captions is “technically feasible”, determining that the request was inconsistent with the language of the CVAA. The FCC also noted that the consumer electronics industry “coalesced around the use of HDMI, which permits the use of rendered captions but does not pass through closed captions, meaning that it only conveys captions when they have been decoded and mixed into the video stream.”

The FCC deferred a decision on the main thrust of the third Petition, filed by a number of consumer groups, which questioned why IP video captioning requirements only apply to “full-length programming” that appears on TV with captions and is then distributed via IP to end users substantially in its entirety. The coalition of consumer groups urged the FCC to expand the captioning requirement to also cover “video clips” containing less than a full-length program. The FCC is keeping the record open on this issue until more information is gathered on the captioning of video clips, including the difficulty of doing so, and the degree to which such captioning already occurs voluntarily.

Finally, in the Further Notice, the FCC asked for “further information necessary to determine whether the Commission should impose synchronization requirements on device manufacturers.” What the FCC is asking for here is additional information to determine whether to “require apparatus manufacturers to ensure that their apparatus synchronize the appearance of closed captions with the display of the corresponding video.” In the Report and Order, the FCC had declined to impose synchronization requirements on manufacturers, instead placing the obligation on video programming distributors and providers.

As noted, initial comments on the Further Notice are due September 3, 2013, with reply comments due on September 30, 2013. The issues raised in the proceeding are obviously complex, so those who wish to file comments should start preparing sooner rather than later.