FCC Updates the Compliance Ladder for Closed Captioning Complaints

Last month, the FCC amended a few sections of Title 47 CFR 79.1: the rule pertaining to closed captioning of televised video programming. The amendments, specifically to 79.1(g)(1) through (9) and (i)(1) through (2), along with the removal of (j)(4), are a follow-up to the proposed reallocation of responsibilities of the Video Programmers and Video Program Distributors first established back in early 2016. The updates to the rule reflect the final decisions on how a compliance ladder will operate when handling consumer complaints related to closed captioning quality concerns.

The ruling focuses on two different scenarios based on how the consumer may approach making a complaint. The FCC recommends filing all complaints within 60 days of the problem either directly with the FCC, or with the Video Program Distributor (VPD) responsible for delivering the program to the consumer. Depending on how the complaint is filed, the review and steps taken to correct the issue should follow the steps below.

The full process, as written by the FCC, can be found here: eCFR — Code of Federal Regulations – jump to 79.1(g).

Complaints Filed Directly with the FCC

Filing directly with the FCC ensures that the issue is recognized on a national scale and helps the FCC identify trends and/or repeat offenders. To file with the FCC, please see our article: How to File a Consumer Complaint Regarding Closed Captioning.

  • The consumer will file the complaint on the FCC’s website listing the complaint, the consumer’s full contact information, channel number (or network name, call letters, etc.), date and time of the error in captions, name of cable or satellite provider, along with a detailed description of the problem.
  • The FCC will then review the complaint and determine who is at fault and assign accordingly.
  • If the Commission cannot identify the source of the problem, the VPD will then be handed the complaint to investigate further.
  • When the source of the captioning error is determined, the responsible parties will then be tasked with investigating and correcting the problem.
  • The steps are taken to fix the issue and a corrective action plan will need to be documented and shared with all involved in the investigation, including the consumer.

Complaints Filed to the VPD

A viewer also has the option to file their complaint directly with the VPDs. Satellite and cable providers, as well as TV stations and networks, are all required to have a designated phone number and email address for direct closed captioning issues published on their websites.

For more, see Resource: Filing Captioning Complaints with Video Program Distributors.

  • The consumer files the complaint directly with the VPD through the contact information listed on the VPD’s website.
  • The VPD will then reply to the consumer with a case ID and confirm that the problem is being investigated.
  • Depending on who’s at fault, the VPD will either correct the issue themselves or assign the case ID to the Video Programmer (VP).
  • If a problem is identified, the responsible party will be in charge of correcting the issue, documenting the steps taken, and reporting back to the VPD (when the VP is at fault).
  • The VPD is required to respond to the consumer directly within 30 days of the complaint with the findings of the investigation.

Who’s at Fault?

This compliance ladder reflects the shared responsibility model that, while still imposing primary responsibility on VPDs, shifts some of that responsibility directly to the VPs that produce the content. Each entity is responsible for closed captioning issues that are primarily within its control.

If the VP is found to be at fault, then they're most likely may be an issue with quality: accuracy, placement, completeness, or synchronization. All of which can be avoided by using an experienced closed captioning vendor. Program Producers will also be required to register directly with the FCC’s website in the future as stated in 79.1(i)(3), but the date for that web form is still to be determined. In the meantime, stations may still require their programmers to submit their certificate of compliance directly with them; although, this is no longer mandatory.

Common issues the VPD may find themselves responsible for will generally be technical problems: either the caption data is not being encoded into the source properly upon transmission (program stream check), the hardware at the station or distribution facility is not configured correctly (processing equipment check), or even an issue with a set-top box provided directly to the consumer (consumer premises check).

At the conclusion of any complaint, the entire process will be reviewed by the FCC to confirm the complaint was handled appropriately, and that the proper process is in place to ensure that the issues do not continue in the future.