Is the Quality of Captions Important? The FCC Has Failed to Mandate Quality Requirements

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has implemented numerous closed-captioning mandates to make television more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, but they have failed to bring forth quality requirements in the face of many consumer and agency complaints.

To review the FCC closed captioning mandates, visit their website at FCC website.

After reviewing the requirements, you can see they mainly address the amount of programming that is required to be closed captioned, but they do not undertake anything to do with the quality or accessibility of the closed captioning.  In 2005, deaf and hard of hearing agencies (TDI, NADHearing Loss Association of America, Association for Late Deafened Adults, and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network) filed a petition with the FCC addressing the issue of the quality of closed captioning.  Almost three and a half years later, the FCC has not addressed the issue in its entirety.

To see the entire petition, complaints and responses go to:

You will note that many of the complaints are in regard to lack of CC or quality CC for emergency television.  The FCC has addressed that situation, but it is not 100% mandated for all stations and networks.

Later this year they "should" be passing a law to make filing complaints easier and more effective.  For more information read: Filing Captioning Complaints

Even though the possible new complaint procedure may lead producers, networks, and TV stations to caption their programs better, the FCC has not come up with specific rules about the quality of closed captioning.  One very easy point to mandate that would make a significant difference was one of the points mentioned in the 2005 petition:

- All pre-recorded captioning should be captioned offline as opposed to in real-time.

The truth of the matter is that many pre-recorded programs are captioned in a live fashion, therefore significantly decreasing quality.

The main reasons shows are closed captioned this way are:

  • Faster turnaround times
  • Cheaper cost
  • It fulfills the FCC requirements

All the FCC would have to do is mandate that live-style cannot be used for pre-recorded programming. The overall quality of captioning for pre-recorded programming would significantly increase.  Unfortunately, many captioning companies offer live captioning for pre-recorded programming to stay afloat in such a competitive market.

Now that almost all programs are being closed-captioned and it has become the norm for TV producers and stations, I predict that more laws will get passed in the near future addressing the quality of closed captions.  This would completely change the way *some* closed captioning companies operate, allowing the "good" companies to shine and stand out from the crowd.

The whole point of closed captioning is accessibility and if the captions are not completely readable, there is no access.