FCC Roundtable: Closed Captioning PEG Programming

On November 10, 2015, the FCC held a roundtable event concentrating on the accessibility of public, educational, and government (PEG) video programming. With the increasing number of local governments and educational institutions feeling the pressure to become compliant, this all-day event was focused on promoting a discussion on the benefits, best practices, current obligations, and solutions - both technical and financial - of adding closed captioning to PEG video programming. The event was comprised of local government professionals, policymakers, captioning vendors, consumer groups, engineers, and others working in applicable fields of video programming.

Closed Captioning Obligations for PEG Programming

Closed captioning rules for PEG stations fall under the same closed captioning rules for all television stations, with one other consideration: the Americans with Disabilities Act. Operators of PEG channels are obligated to adhere to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. PEG stations with budgets tied into their local governments’ overall budget – PEGs are considered a “Title II” entity, defined as a state or local government body under the ADA – are required to provide services to accommodate persons with disabilities, regardless of the FCC exemptions.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Rules on PEG channels can be found here.

Cost vs. Value

It was important that the first session of this roundtable discussion focused on the overall value of closed captioning PEG programming; since a key focus of the third session was financially reasonable solutions. Greg Hlibok opened the day with a welcome that included, “Closed captioning is one important tool to ensure access. With 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, being able to access local PEG programming can be considered a fundamental tenet of American citizenship.” Mr. Hlibok, deaf since birth, is currently the Chief of the FCC’s Disability Rights Office (DRO).

Donna Keating, Media Services Manager for a Montgomery County cable channel, was in attendance and added insight from her experiences at her station over the past 15 years. “Closed captioning is extremely important to us… it’s important because we believe it expands public participation.” She further shared her experiences with her initial set-up, bidding process, her current hardware set-up, and preparation of support materials for her captioning vendor.

Evolution of Captioning Technology

As the captioning requirements get stricter, the growing number of organizations looking for a more affordable solution continues to grow. So, inevitably, the question came up from the audience on the current state of technologies that can help reduce cost.

When presented with the question, Tole Khensin responded on behalf of the captioning vendor’s panel, “In terms of whether speech recognition will get to the point where humans are not required at all, probably not in our lifetimes, unfortunately.”

Automated transcription is still, at best, only 80% accurate. That means one out of five words is wrong and will require tedious hours of proofreading and edits. And that is only a solution for the transcription; leaving line breaks, timing, and proper placement. All of which really need the quality control of the human eye to ensure compliance.

It’s easy to get caught up in the monetary cost and the coordination of technical resources associated with closed captioning PEG programming, but the value of accessibility is immeasurable in comparison. As the search for more cost-effect solutions in captioning continues, the consensus was clear that we are still a long way away from removing the human element from captioning.

For interested parties that could not make the trip out east to Washington D.C., the FCC was generous enough to offer a live streaming webcast of the event. Closed-captioned, of course. It has been archived and can be found on their website along with the full 72-page transcript, here: Roundtable Discussion of Closed Captioning for Public Access and Governmental Programming.