On Nov. 19, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to implement portions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) requiring: 1) emergency information to be made accessible to blind or visually impaired individuals, and 2) certain video programming equipment to be capable of decoding and making available video description services and emergency information to such individuals. The FCC proposed to extend the requirements to television broadcast and multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) services, and apparatuses designed to receive, play back or record broadcast or MVPD services, but not to IP-delivered video programming that is not otherwise an MVPD service or to apparatus display of IP-delivered video programming. The NPRM seeks comment on these and other proposals.

First, the FCC proposed to modify Section 79.2 of its rules to require broadcast television and MVPD services to make emergency information that is provided to viewers visually during non-newscast programming (e.g., via a text crawl) accessible to blind or visually impaired individuals via a secondary audio stream, which would provide that information aurally and concurrently with the visual emergency information. (The FCC’s existing rules require emergency information provided visually during a newscast to be provided aurally in the primary audio stream and also require that information provided visually during non-newscasts be accompanied by an aural tone. This NPRM does not propose to modify the requirements applicable to information presented during newscasts.) The NPRM seeks comment on the proposed requirement to use a secondary audio stream, as well as related issues, including:

  • The benefits and/or incremental costs of providing a secondary audio stream for emergency information provided during non-newscasts;
  • The implementation of the proposed requirement to provide a secondary audio stream for such purposes, including the appropriate time frame for meeting the requirements, the steps covered entities must take to meet the requirements, and whether covered entities must provide customer support related to the secondary audio stream;
  • Whether the definition of emergency in Section 79.2(a)(2) should be updated to include, for example, severe thunderstorms;
  • The extent to which text-to-speech (TTS) technologies are sufficiently accurate and reliable for use in generating the secondary audio stream;
  • Whether the aurally-presented emergency information must be identical to the information presented visually;
  • Whether emergency information on a secondary stream may block video description on the same stream;
  • The roles of video programming distributors, video programming providers, and program owners in meeting this requirement;
  • Whether changes are required to the existing complaint procedures; and
  • Additional or alternative methods, beyond the secondary audio stream, by which emergency information might be made accessible to blind or visually impaired persons.

Second, the FCC solicited comments regarding requirements that any apparatus designed to receive, play back, or record television broadcast or MVPD services have the capability to decode and make available required video description services and emergency information accessible to blind or visually impaired individuals. The NPRM seeks comment on the meaning of these requirements and several related issues, including the following:

  • The specific capabilities that should be mandated by the FCC such as the use of TTS and the steps manufacturers, broadcasters and MVPDs must take to ensure that video description services and emergency information provided via a secondary audio stream are available and accessible;
  • Whether DBS providers face unique technical challenges in providing compliant equipment;
  • The requirements for recording devices, especially since emergency information is time sensitive;
  • What performance and display standards should be imposed, including whether the secondary audio channel should default to the primary audio when not in use to enable consumers to tune to this stream all of the time;
  • How certain equipment features that present challenges raised in the 2011 video description proceeding (e.g., labeling of video streams, use of “receiver-mix” technology, delivery of multiple simultaneous ancillary audio services) should be handled;
  • The appropriate deadline for apparatus to meet the new requirements;
  • Complaint filing procedures, including a proposal that Commission staff be permitted to request information from any party in order to investigate or adjudicate the complaint;
  • Whether the types of apparatus to which the rules will apply should be limited to those that make available the type of programming that is subject to current FCC emergency information rules (and thus excluding the display of IP-delivered video programming that is not part of television broadcast or MVPD service);
  • Whether certain definitions from the FCC’s previous IP Closed Captioning Order should be applied to this context, albeit without references to IP programming;
  • The potential inclusion of removable media play back apparatus, such as DVD and Blu-ray players, in the scope of the requirements;
  • An “achievability” exception that would apply to certain types of apparatus, including those using a picture screen of less than 13 inches, exemptions for display-only video monitors, and purpose-based waivers; and
  • Alternate means of compliance and the procedures by which such means might be evaluated.

Comments in response to the NPRM are due 20 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 10 days thereafter.