The FCC recently released two orders relating to new closed captioning rules adopted by the agency in November 2008. The rules adopted in 2008, which are not yet in effect, provide for additional means through which consumers may lodge closed captioning complaints, tighten the timelines for filing and responding to complaints, and obligate stations to provide specific contact information to the public and to the FCC.

The rules adopted in 2008 require every video programming distributor (VPD), including television broadcast stations, to submit to the FCC information concerning VPD personnel who will assist consumers in resolving closed captioning complaints. Last week, the Commission amended this rule to allow VPDs to submit this information via a new FCC webform. The agency is encouraging the use of the webform by all VPDs (although the Commission will also accept information submitted on paper or by email). The webform is not yet available. Once the rules take effect, VPDs will have 30 days to submit the required information.

The FCC's 2008 Order also changed the Commission's policy regarding how a VPD, such as a cable or satellite operator, should handle captioning complaints about programming provided by a broadcast television licensee, as well as complaints concerning programming over which a VPD does not have editorial control (e.g., political programming). Instead of having the option to return the complaint to the consumer or forward it to the program provider, in 2008, the agency said VPDs would be required to forward the complaint to the appropriate third party, and notify both the viewer and the Commission of its action. Now, the FCC is rethinking its decision because the requirement may conflict with other of the agency's rules prohibiting the disclosure of personably identifiable information to third parties. The Commission intends to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on a revised rule.

The Commission's recent decisions require no action on the part of VPDs at this point. The FCC's new orders, however, suggest that the agency is focusing on closed captioning matters and that other decisions may be forthcoming.