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Implementing DTV Closed Captioning and Video Description (NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference; April 9, 2000 )

Implementing DTV Closed Captions and Video Description

DTV: Meeting the Deadlines
NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference
April 9, 2000


Over the past three decades, the television community has created innovative systems to extend the reach of programming to the estimated 37 million Americans with hearing or vision sensory disabilities.

Closed captioning provides a text representation of a program's dialogue and sound effects for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Video description provides an alternate audio service including supplementary narration describing the image and action for people who are blind or visually impaired. These services have utilized two features of the analog NTSC and BTSC standards, respectively, for delivery to the home: Line 21 of the vertical blanking interval (VBI) for caption data, and the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) for the video description track.

Yet neither of these NTSC methods exists in the digital domain. As more television broadcasters begin the transition to digital transmissions, there is a need to adopt new techniques to preserve the captioned and described programming that currently exists, and there are opportunities to create new services utilizing the advanced features of the digital television standards.

During the transition, engineers and managers need to understand the current status and regulatory requirements concerning these services, anticipate related technical and regulatory developments specific to digital television, and prepare for effective implementation and support within their facilities. A general overview of these topics as they relate to digital terrestrial broadcasting is presented, based on current industry practice and the experience and research efforts of the WGBH Educational Foundation.


The WGBH Educational Foundation is one of the country's leading public broadcasters and has long considered one of its central missions to be increasing access to media for people with disabilities.

In 1971, WGBH established The Caption Center, the world's first captioning agency, to produce captions for TV programs so that deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers could gain equal access to those programs. Today, The Caption Center produces captions for every facet of the television and home video industry.

In 1986, WGBH began its first experiments with the use of SAP audio to deliver video description for blind and visually impaired audiences. These efforts resulted in the creation of the Descriptive Video Service®, which launched nationally on PBS in January of 1990 and is now carried by public television stations reaching more than 85% of total television households. DVS also provides video description on a limited basis on cable television.

Following its work to help shape the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, staff from The Caption Center began work with colleagues in the captioning and television industries to create a standard and specification for line-21 closed captions for NTSC television.

Under the auspices of the Electronics Industry Association, the Television Data Systems Subcommittee (R 4.3) created EIA-608 "Recommended Practice for Line 21 Data Service." The Caption Center at WGBH created a video test tape which has been widely used throughout the industry to test implementation of the EIA-608 standard, and has consulted with numerous manufacturers about their decoder circuitry design and display characteristics.

In 1993, in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) was established as a research and development facility designed to extend the uses of captioning and video description in the home, classroom, workplace, and community.

One of NCAM's first federally funded projects was to begin work on user testing and simulation of closed captions in the emerging "Advanced Television" system, including support of an industry working group. Eventually, out of this work, the original EIA-708 (Digital Television Closed Captioning) standard emerged.

NCAM also became involved in the work of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), and contributed to the relevant sections of the A/52 , A/53 and A/65 standards.

In 1998, NCAM established the DTV Access Project to encourage implementation of DTV services for people with sensory disabilities. Project staff participate directly in the major industry standards organizations, including CEA, the ATSC and SMPTE. The Project is also creating a series of closed caption and video description test materials for industry use.


As a general rule, all stations must have a working DTV signal on air by the end of 2003, and must complete the transition to full digital broadcasting by the end of 2006. During this period, simultaneous support of analog and digital source material and transmissions will be critical for broadcasters.

As stations begin the transition process, much of the programming that goes to air on digital channels will be simulcast with analog air signals, from current existing analog sources.

Broadcasters need cost-effective solutions to support on-the-fly conversion of analog caption and description services to standard DTV formats, in tandem with existing upconversion practices. This includes upconversion of EIA-608 data sources to EIA-708 compliant formats, and conversion of existing NTSC SAP audio sources to A/52 compliant formats.

As the transition progresses, more and more programming will be originated in native DTV form. Captions and video descriptions will then be authored in native DTV form as well.

For caption and description service agencies and program distributors, solutions must be found to allow authoring formats that can take full advantage of the extended DTV feature sets and at the same time provide cost-effective support of the installed base of NTSC devices throughout the broadcast chain, in-plant and to the home.

For broadcasters, integrated solutions are needed to support caption and description source material from the point of contribution through network distribution, in-plant routing and to the encoding, multiplexing and transmission stages.


DTV captioning standards and related requirements are well outlined, based as they are on nearly thirty years worth of industry experience and detailed Commission rules from the analog domain. The basic ATSC and CEA DTV captioning standards are now clearly defined. Yet many of the exact details for DTV captioning are still in process at the start of 2000.

Much of the captioning standard described by EIA-708 includes terminology and concepts unique to digital captioning, often with no direct corollary to NTSC captions. The full standard includes normative and informational references that are essential to understanding digital captioning, and the full text - particularly in Sections 4 (DTVCC Transport Layer) and 6 (Caption Service Layer) - includes detailed definitions and discussion found nowhere else. Particularly helpful are discussions of inclusion of EIA-608-type caption data in the ATSC (DTV) caption transport layer.

EIA/CEA-608 data may be embedded within the video user data of an ATSC compliant MPEG-2 video elementary stream. This exists primarily to facilitate decoding and encoding processes required to convert the DTV video stream into an NTSC compliant video output for use with NTSC receivers and peripherals. Such devices include not only 13" or larger receivers manufactured since 1993, but also VCRs and the increasingly popular TV tuner cards for personal computers, many of which include caption decoding circuitry.

EIA-708 states that the EIA-608 data bytes are not embedded within the DTV closed-caption protocol stack. That is, they are not passed onto the DTVCC Packet Layer; rather, they are extracted at the DTVCC Transport Layer and routed to a separate NTSC device equipped with an EIA-608 caption decoder (if present). This allows for simpler closed-caption decoder implementations for DTV-to-NTSC set-top transcoders since the entire DTVCC Packet Layer data stream does not have to be parsed to find a few bytes of NTSC caption data. EIA-708 provides a simple mechanism to deliver appropriate caption data to DTV and NTSC devices alike.

Native DTV closed captions (with advanced features) are included in the DTVCC Caption Channel, within the DTVCC protocol stack, and are intended for full decode by an EIA-708 compliant decoder.

To further understand this process, the following definitions of terms are offered.

1. EIA-608 ("Native 608") closed captions are captions formatted and presented in the current analog television system and carried on the two fields of line 21 of the vertical blanking interval. Field one contains CC1, CC2, T1 and T2 (the latter being text services). Field 2 contains CC3, CC4, T3 and T4. CC1 is most often used to carry verbatim English captions and CC3 is increasingly being used for Spanish-language captions and captions edited for young children ("Easy Reader" or "Beginning Reader" captions). The common look and feel of native 608 captions is limited to white block letters within a box-like black background field. Color (non-white) characters, while possible, are only occasionally used due to the 13-year legacy of set-top decoders which cannot display colored captions.

2. EIA-708B is the standard for conveying caption data in a digital television signal. Since the DTV signal does not have a vertical blanking interval, EIA-708B provides an alternate method of maintaining existing captioned programming services by allowing for the inclusion of "native 608" caption data directly in the digital bitstream. This method provides one solution to the concerns about having to recaption all analog (NTSC) programming destined for conversion for DTV distribution.

EIA 708 defines how to include 608 data within the 708 transport because manufacturers, broadcasters and caption service providers did not want to have to caption programs twice. Likewise, it was not expected that DTV receivers would translate native 608 captions into native 708 captions.

2. "Transcoded" 608 data is intended to be delivered to a conventional EIA-608 caption decoder, either within a DTV receiver device, or through its analog video output to a conventional television and its built-in EIA-608 caption decoder circuitry. "Transcoded" 608 captions presented in this fashion look and perform identically to traditional analog captions ("Native 608").

3. It is also possible to "upconvert" 608 caption data to true 708 format, in effect using the original 608 data as source material and employing a limited set of EIA-708 features to present the captions to an EIA-708 decoder. These "upconverted 608" captions also maintain the look and feel of traditional analog captions, but are presented and decoded using the true digital construct. This up-conversion occurs at the origination point of a video program's distribution, not in any form of digital set-top box or receiver.

Typically, both transcoding and upconverting are performed by a "caption data server," a device suggested in the EIA-708 specification and now commonly available and being used on the air by a growing number of DTV stations. Likewise, caption providers in a competitive environment will have incentives to support output of multiple caption formats from a single source file.

A caption data server interface format recently adopted by SMPTE standardizes the connection between this device and other DTV encoding equipment. There are proven technical solutions today from major caption equipment providers that can transcode and upconvert 608 caption data to the 708 format in a single encoding session, a near automatic process with minimal costs.

Transcoded and upconverted 608 captions are available and are being used today for DTV programming and will meet the requirements of the Telecommunications Act.

4. The EIA-708 standard also allows for considerably more bandwidth to accommodate new caption features and services - "native 708" captions - that will require a new generation of (708) caption decoders as well as new caption authoring tools and upgrades of existing authoring software.

While the analog captioning standard is limited to four caption services and four text services (plus XDS), the digital captioning standard allows as many as 63 caption services. As in the case of analog, there are practical limitations on the number of services that can be offered simultaneously. In the case of DTV, the ATSC A/65 (PSIP) specification limits the number of simultaneous caption services to sixteen.

There are many features in EIA-708 that can improve the "look and feel" of DTV captions beyond those defined by EIA-608. Among them are viewer-sizable fonts, multiple font choices, multiple caption windows, and additional border and drop shadow options. These features were determined through consumer testing and initial simulation activities conducted by a WGBH project with the EIA Television Data Systems Subcommittee (TDSS), previously mentioned.

A current FCC proceeding will determine which of the advanced features described in EIA-708 will become the basic feature set supported by DTV receivers and set-top boxes, and therefore the extent to which caption services will be allowed to improve.

5. First generation DTV receivers were typically set-top boxes with single ATSC (digital) tuners, capable only of receiving new DTV signals. Dual mode receivers are now becoming available to consumers.

The new devices contain both an NTSC (analog) television tuner and an ATSC (digital) television tuner and can be found as set-top boxes, PC add-on cards, and in integrated receivers (tuners bundled with a display screen).

Likewise, these devices commonly have multiple video outputs: analog NTSC composite, S-Video, component (Y, Pr, Pb) and VGA. This makes the need for consistency and interoperability among systems and devices even more critical. Consumers need assurance that they will have access to captioning no matter which tuner is selected for display, via any of the outputs the device offers.

At this time, work is underway within SMPTE to define standards in support of DTV captioning for tape transport (SMPTE 334M) and in plant routing, as both vertical ancillary data and as non-audio data in AES-3 pathways.

Similarly, ATSC and CEA work is continuing to further refine the uses of PSIP data to announce and identify DTVcaption services.

WGBH's DTV Access Project will be working on these issues as well during 2000, through its involvement in the DTV Model Station Project sponsored by MSTV, CEA and NAB.

Video Description
Video description implementation in DTV broadcasting in many ways mirrors the experience of video description implementation in analog broadcasting. Some of the parallels illustrate the need to provide clear methods in support of DTV video description as early as possible in the transition process.

In 1988, WGBH successfully tested national delivery of video description with ten participating public television stations, using an additional dedicated audio subcarrier on PBS national Satellite feeds to carry the service to member stations.

At the station plant, a third level of audio was routed from the satellite receive through facility routing and on to an SAP (Secondary Audio Program) exciter at the transmitter.

This process used the 1984 BTSC standard for multichannel television sound to make the simultaneous delivery of video description with broadcast programs practical, and removed a significant barrier to distribution by eliminating the need to provide descriptive narration on the main program audio on repeat broadcasts targeted to special audiences.

A local station could now add an additional, monaural audio track to any of its programs and the individual viewer could for the first time choose between two audio services. But two significant limitations remained.

Most common professional broadcast videotape formats and resulting audio routing were limited to two channels of audio, so a path for the SAP source track had to be hard patched, in many cases precluding the possibility of repeat or delayed broadcasts of description beyond the network hard feed.

Most professional videotape formats now commonly offer support for four or more channels of audio, but many facilities are still limited to two channels routing and switching.

For the consumer, most SAP decoding in VCRs and televisions, when available, offered an "either-or" choice between the main program (stereo) audio and the SAP (monaural) track. This imposed a functional limitation on description, requiring the service to be provided in all cases as a separate monaural mix of the main program audio and the supplemental descriptive narration. While a blind or visually impaired consumer typically needed to purchase an MTS-stereo equipped television or VCR to receive the SAP service, the service itself, when chosen, would always be monaural.

The ATSC A/52 audio standard allows two approaches in support of DTV video description.

On one hand, a program distributor or broadcaster can offer an alternate "complete main" audio service of program audio plus descriptive narration. This is a model similar to that used in DVD production for multiple language tracks. In DTV, this also allows video description to be offered within stereo, Dolby-matrix surround, or full 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mixes. For the first time, DTV will allow blind and visually impaired audiences the opportunity to enjoy described broadcasts with the full impact of the original program soundfield.

For the reasons discussed below, this is most likely the approach that will be used for DTV.

Another approach involves the use of the "associated audio service" model described in A/52. This is a more bit-efficient approach for transmission, allowing a limited bandwidth service containing only the descriptive narration (voice-grade, and on average occurring significantly less than the total program running time). This approach assumes a receiver will be able to decode simultaneously the complete main audio service and an associated audio service, then mix them according to a coded value in the bitstream.

But the A/52 standard does not require all DTV receivers to provide this "dual stream" audio decoding capability. Since this is optional, and since consumer equipment manufacturers have expressed their reluctance to provide this capability in anything other than the more expensive receivers, there is no incentive for video description providers or program distributors to adopt this approach. There is no guarantee the average viewer would be able to receive the service in this manner.

For the broadcast plant, support for video description is related to the larger issue of support for multiple-channel audio in general. The potential of the DTV standards far exceeds the current capability of most installations. A significant challenge in the transition to digital television is building the infrastructure to support in-plant routing of uncompressed or mildly compressed signals. Issues of multiple encode/decode cycles and signal latencies are well known.

For audio sources, this has led to the current development of Dolby E and proposals within SMPTE to provide multiple-channel audio coding techniques using the non-audio data features of AES-3.

Further development of multi-channel (8 or more) audio track support in videotape recorders is underway, although many broadcasters are likely to go to digital air with a "dual-system" in which 5.1 channel audio originates from a digital audio tape synchronized with the video source.

Other solutions include serving pre-encoded transport streams, and further development of program elements in a variety of computer file formats being "called to air" by automation systems.

As in the case of captioning, there are many questions that remain concerning the use of other DTV standards to announce and identify a video description service. With ATSC A/65 (PSIP) generators and regenerators just now arriving in the marketplace, rapid development on these issues is expected within the next year. As discussed, WGBH and NCAM will be involved in related activities with the DTV Model Station Project.

One related issue of concern is the challenge presented to blind and visually impaired consumers by electronic program guides and other on-screen user-interfaces.

As with NTSC consumer equipment, WGBH and NCAM advocate that DTV consumer devices provide alternatives to on-screen menu selections for people with disabilities. At its simplest, this would mean provision of "direct access" toggle buttons on remote controls for both audio and caption selection. Many manufacturers have recognized the "universal design" benefit such features provide for the population in general.

A new NCAM project now underway will conduct research on the potential for alternate text-to-speech and voice-recognition approaches to graphical user-interfaces (GUI). Working with partners in the broadcast, cable and consumer electronics industries, the project will create a prototype solution for industry comment and development.


The FCC is still determining specific regulatory requirements for DTVcaptioning and video description.

For captioning, the Commission has indicated that it will carry forward and redefine for digital television existing analog programming requirements once its rules on DTV receiver decoder requirements are determined. As previously mentioned, these receiver rules are expected later this year. Engineers and managers can refer to current caption rules to determine the impact on facilities and operations, a summary of which follows. For description, there are currently no Commission rules or requirements, although there is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking now in process that would define basic programming requirements for analog broadcast . The Commission has indicated its intention to carry forward any such rules to DTV, following the process similar to that it has followed for captioning. These proposed rules are summarized, below.

The Commission has also determined that DTV should provide incentives for the further development of video description, since its flexible standards offer additional technical opportunities to broadcasters.

Additionally, an NPRM on Public Interest Obligations of TV Broadcast Licensees for digital television was announced in December 1999. Based on the recommendations of the Presidential Public Interest Advisory Committee (PIAC), the proposed rules would require broadcasters to ensure access to digital streams for people with disabilities.


The FCC has a long history of rulemaking concerning the provision of closed captioning.

The Commission published its most recent Report and Order on Closed Captioning in August 1997. In September 1998, the FCC issued a reconsideration order after receiving a number of petitions from programming interests and groups representing people with hearing disabilities. The following summary incorporates the September 1998 revisions. The original Report and Order and the separate Order of Reconsideration are available at the FCC's Web site (

Entities responsible for compliance
The FCC defines video programming as programming that is distributed and exhibited for residential use. Program distributors who provide programming directly to consumers' homes are responsible for compliance. Program distributors are defined as:

  • broadcasters
  • cable operators
  • wireless cable operators
  • instructional television fixed services (ITFS) or local multipoint
  • distribution services (LMDS)
  • satellite master antenna television (SMATV) operators
  • direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers
  • direct-to-home (DTH) providers
  • home satellite dish (HSD) providers
  • open video system (OVS) operators
Although the FCC holds these program distributors responsible, the Commission expects that captioning will actually be a shared responsibility between distributors, program providers and program owners.

New programming requirements
The FCC defined "new programming" as programming first published or exhibited on or after January 1, 1998, the first day the ruling took effect.

The phase-in period for new programming rules was established as eight years, with compliance to be measured on a calendar-quarter basis. Based on a 20-hour broadcast day (see exemption below re: programs airing between 2 AM and 6 AM), the FCC stated that program distributors must continue to provide captioned video programming at the same level as the average level of captioning they provided during the first six months of 1997, even if that amount of captioning exceeded the new requirements. This has been referred to as the "no backsliding" provision.

In the Commission's original Closed Captioning order, the Commission established a level of 95% of new nonexempt programming as the definition of accessibility. On reconsideration, the Commission defined full accessibility to be the captioning of 100% of all new nonexempt video programming.

* Between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2001, program distributors must provide at least 450 hours of captioned programming per calendar quarter or five hours per day. If the program distributor provides less than 450 hours of new programming, then 100% of its new programming must be captioned.

* Between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2003, program distributors must provide at least 900 hours of captioned video programming per calendar quarter, or 10 hours per day. If the programming distributor provides less than 900 hours of new programming, then 100% of its new programming must be captioned.

* Between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2005, program distributors must provide at least an average of 1,350 hours of captioned video programming per calendar quarter or 15 hours per day. If the program distributor provides less than 1,350 hours of new programming, then 100% of its new programming must be captioned.

* As of January 1, 2006, and thereafter, 100% of the program distributor's new programming must be captioned.

Programs produced and aired prior to January 1, 1998
The FCC refers to programs published or exhibited prior to January 1, 1998 as pre-rule programming. This has also been referred to as library programming.

The Commission also included as pre-rule all programming produced for DTV transmission prior to the effective date on which DTV television receivers must, by Commission rule, be equipped with built-in decoder circuitry designed to display closed-captioned digital television transmissions . The related NPRM comment periods are complete, and rules are expected later in 2000.

The reconsideration order established a requirement that 75% of pre-rule nonexempt programming be captioned by the end of the 10-year transition period. Full compliance is expected by 2008 and will also be measured on a calendar-quarter basis. The Commission also established a benchmark that at least 30% of a channel's pre-rule programming be provided with captions as of January 1, 2003.

The Commission also reaffirmed it would monitor the implementation of closed captioning for pre-rule programming and would conduct a review of the industry's progress in 2002.

Passing on captions intact to the consumer
All programs that are captioned must be passed to consumers with captions intact. However, if the distributor edits the captioned program, reformatting the captions is not required. The FCC established no rule requiring the reformatting of programs, which is necessary if a captioned program is edited.

However the Commission does state that it "expects that video programming providers will make the reformatting of captions a common practice when programs are edited." The FCC will revisit this issue as the rules are implemented and will consider at that time whether a reformatting requirement is necessary.

Electronic News room Technique
The Electronic Newsroom Technique has been commonly used for live programming, (especially newscasts) and creates captions from a news script computer or teleprompter. Only material that is scripted can be captioned using this technique, and thus, within a program, live field reports, breaking news, sports and weather may remain uncaptioned.

Originally, all live programs or repeats of programs originally transmitted live and captioned using the electronic news room technique were to be considered captioned.

On reconsideration, the Commission found the limitations of electronic newsroom to be a concern, and ruled that beginning January 1, 2000, a class of video providers prohibited from using it for compliance with the rules would include

* the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC), broadcast stations affiliated with these networks in the top 25 television markets as defined by Nielsen's Designated Market Areas, and

* nonbroadcast networks serving 50% or more of the total of national multichannel video programming distributor households.

Spanish Language Programming
On reconsideration, the Commission has established a requirement that Spanish language programming be captioned, and adopted a 12-year transition for new nonexempt Spanish language programming and a 14-year transition period for pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language programming.

In its Order, the Commission defined the following classes of exempt programming:

* Programming bound by a contract in effect on or before February 8, 1996 in which closed captioning is prohibited by the contract. No further extension or renewal of such a contract is permitted.

* Non-English language programming with the exception of programs that are produced using an electronic news room system. Those programs must be captioned using an electronic newsroom captioning system. The above restrictions on the use of ENR apply.

* Primarily textual programming including channels dedicated to on-screen program schedules or guides, community calendars, etc.

* Late night programming that is distributed between 2 AM and 6 AM local time. If a program service covers more than one time zone, the program distributor providing the channel will be exempt for any four-hour period they choose, commencing no earlier than 12 AM local time and ending no later than 7 AM local time in any location where the service is delivered for viewing.

* Interstitials, promotional announcements and PSAs that are 10 minutes or less in duration.

* Advertising of less than five minutes in duration. The Commission has maintained the decision in the Closed Captioning Order that short-form advertising is not required to be closed captioned.

* Instructional television fixed service or ITFS programming that is intended for specific receive sites and not for general distribution to residential viewers.

* Locally Produced and Distributed Non-News Programming with no repeat value, of local public interest, and for which the electronic news room technique of captioning is unavailable is exempt. The programming must be locally created and not available outside of the local service area or market of a broadcast station or the equivalent for a cable system operator. The FCC gives examples of local parades, local high school and nonprofessional sports, unscripted local talk shows or community theater productions. The FCC anticipates a review of this exemption during the transition period.

* Programming on New Networks broadcast or nonbroadcast, national or regional will be exempt for four years. The number of years will be determined by the network's launch date. A network must comply with the closed-captioning rules at the end of the four-year exemption period. In recognition of the significant start-up costs faced by new networks, the Commission established a four-year exemption from the captioning requirements from the networks' launch date. In addition to networks launched after the January 1, 1998 effective date of the captioning rules, the Commission will extend the exemption to networks that had not yet reached their fourth anniversary by that date. Those networks will be exempt for a four-year period beginning on January 1, 1998. The Commission declined to eliminate the so-called "drop-in" provision that requires new networks to meet existing benchmarks as they mature beyond the new network definition.

* Music programming that is primarily non-vocal in nature such as symphony or ballet is exempt.

* No program distributor will be required to spend more than 2% of gross annual revenues on captioning. The gross annual revenues will be calculated based on the previous year's revenues. The provider must spend up to 2% of gross annual revenues on captioning whether or not this brings the distributor into compliance with the established benchmarks.

* Providers with less than $3,000,000 in gross annual revenues will not be required to spend any money to caption programming. However, they will be required to pass through programming that has already been captioned with those captions intact.

* Compliance is calculated on a per-channel, calendar-quarter basis.

* Open captioning or subtitles in the language of the target audience may be used in lieu of closed captioning.

* Live portions of PBS pledge fundraising activities, which utilize automated software to create a continuous captioned message, will be considered captioned.

* Programming produced solely for closed circuit or private distribution is not subject to these rules.

* Programming which is exempt, but which actually contains captions can count toward compliance up to January 1, 2006, except for those programs distributed between 2 AM and 6 AM.

* If two or more networks or sources of programming share a single channel, each network or source individually must be in compliance with the rules.

* Program distributors will not be required to provide closed captioning for programming that is by law not subject to their editorial control. This would include programming involving candidates for public office, commercial leased access, public access, governmental and educational access programming, programming distributed by direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services in compliance with the noncommercial programming requirement and programming distributed by a common carrier or that is distributed on an open video system. If the programming is not otherwise exempt from captioning, the entity that contracts for its distribution must comply with the closed captioning requirements.

Procedures for Exemptions Based on Undue Burden
* Any party within the program distribution chain can file an undue burden petition. The FCC will consider how the captioning requirement might hinder program production and distribution. The petition for exemption will be placed on public notice for public comment within a 30 day time period. To the extent possible, petitioners must provide proposals regarding alternative ways to provide access to theirprogramming that are less burdensome than captioning. These solutions can include increased used of graphics or sign language interpretation. The FCC can deny or approve all or part of a petition. While a petition for exemption based on undue burden is pending, the program is exempt from captioning requirements.

Standards for Accuracy and Quality
* All program providers must ensure that programming with closed captions is delivered to viewers with the captions complete and intact. This is an extension of existing rules in the Cable Act.
* Program providers are responsible for monitoring programming and maintaining their equipment and signal transmissions to ensure that captions are complete and intact. Video program providers can rely on certifications from programming suppliers that the program is indeed captioned.
* At this time, the FCC is not adopting standards for non-technical aspects of captioning-- grammar, spelling, etc. However, the FCC will be monitoring all aspects of implementation including the quality of captioning and may adopt standards at a later date.

* Initial complaints should first go to the program distributor responsible for the delivery of the programming to the consumers' homes. The complaint must be in writing, state specifically what rule was violated and must contain evidence of the violation. Violations include failure to meet the established benchmarks or failure to pass existing captions through to the consumer complete and intact. Complaints must be filed by the end of the calendar quarter following the calendar quarter in which the violation occurred. They must be resolved by 45 days following the end of the calendar quarter when the violation occurred or by 45 days following the receipt of the complaint, whichever is later. If the program distributor does not resolve the complaint, it may be taken to the FCC by the complainant. The FCC will review the complaint, the response and all the documentation and determine if a violation occurred. If a violation has occurred the FCC may impose penalties. For flagrant violation, the FCC may require the program distributor to exceed the established captioning benchmarks.
* Commission also denies the request for record keeping requirements and states its intention to conduct random audits of captioning similar to the audits used to monitor compliance with other rules, such as the children's programming requirements.
* Complete complaint procedures can be found in the FCC documents or on the FCC's Web site
Emergency Information
* The FCC finds this a very important area and is conducting a proceeding to examine the issue of accessible emergency information.

New Technologies, Including DTV
* Captioning requirements will remain in place for digital or high definition television, or DTV. The FCC expects programming entities involved in the development of DTV will take into account the need to caption. When receiver standards for DTV are approved, the process for developing a standard captioning process for DTV will proceed normally. The FCC will formally gather information on DTV captioning needs when it approves DTV receiver standards.
* The FCC recognizes the convergence of TV and computers and the growth of programming on the Internet and may address this at a later date.


There currently are no regulatory requirements for the provision of video description, but that is likely to change in the coming months.

The FCC NPRM released in November 1999 (see Footnote 11) proposes that rules be applied to the provision of video description for analog broadcast. Comments were due on February 23, 2000, with reply comments due on March 24, 2000.

The full Notice also includes detailed discussion of the history, potential audiences, technology and prior Commission inquires related to video description, and seeks comment on a number of related issues.

The proposed rules include the following requirements:

* A phased-in approach requiring "closed" video description by broadcasters affiliated with the four largest commercial broadcasting networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in the Nielsen top 25 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and the larger MVPDs (Multiple Video Program Distributors).

* Defines the entities responsible for compliance in a manner similar to that of its captioning rules.

* Larger MVPDs would be required to carry the described programming of the broadcasters affiliated with the top 4 networks, and with nonbroadcast networks that reach 50% or more of MVPD households.

* A minimum of 50 hours per calendar quarter (roughly four hours per week) of prime time and/or children's programming would be required within 18 months after the effective date of the rules. A further timetable for development is subject to additional inquiry and comment.

The Notice also states the Commission's intent to consider a specific timetable and related issues for provision of video description by digital broadcasters in a future proceeding.


On December 15, 1999, the Commission released its NPRM on digital broadcasting public interest obligations (see Footnote 12). As previously mentioned, this includes specific proposals concerning access to digital streams by persons with disabilities. Comments were due on March 27, 2000, with reply comments due by April 25, 2000.

NCAM's work on digital television access is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education¹s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) through grant #H133G010170 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Future Fund.