On Nov. 16, 2016, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order that extended the deadline to comply with Section 79.2(b)(2)(ii) of the FCC’s rules for 18 months. This rule requires that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast programming also be provided aurally to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through the use of a secondary audio stream. Specifically, the rule provides that the video programming provider or distributor that creates the visual emergency information content and adds it to the programming stream is also responsible for providing the information aurally on a secondary audio stream, accompanied by an aural tone. This rule was adopted by the FCC in April 2013 to comply with the Twenty-First Century Communications Video Accessibility Act of 2010. It applies to all video programming providers, including broadcast, cable and satellite.

In May 2015, the National Association of Broadcasters (“NAB”) sought a waiver of the initial deadline for the requirement to aurally describe visual but non-textual emergency information. NAB argued that a waiver was warranted because it was technically infeasible for broadcasters to comply with the requirement. NAB noted that an automated text-to-speech solution cannot be used to aurally describe radar maps and other moving graphics because the software used to generate such graphics does not contain text files that can be converted to speech. In response, the FCC granted an 18 month waiver to provide the broadcast industry with time to develop a technical solution for compliance. The resulting waiver applied to any “video programming provider” that was subject to the rule, including cable and satellite distributors.

With the new compliance deadline approaching quickly, and a technical solution still not available, NAB, along with the American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind filed a joint petition on September 2nd for an additional 18 month extension of the waiver to comply with the requirement to aurally describe visual but non-textual emergency information. In their waiver petition, the petitioners indicated that vendors remain unable to create aural descriptions for radar maps and other moving graphics generated by software that does not contain text files that can be converted into speech. On this basis, the FCC granted the additional 18 month extension to comply with Section 79.2(b)(2)(ii).

While granting the additional 18 month extension, the FCC is requiring video programming providers to provide a status report on Nov. 22, 2017 (a year from now) that describes efforts made by the industry to develop a technical solution. DWT will continue to track this issue.