The FCC issued a reminder to all video program distributors – including TV stations, cable systems and satellite television providers – that emergency information must be made accessible to those with hearing or vision disabilities. For those with hearing difficulty, the Commission reminded providers that they must make information available visually as well as aurally – either through closed captioning or some other method that the aurally impaired can understand the nature of the emergency. For the visually impaired, if the emergency information is provided in a crawl or through some other non-verbal manner, there need to be alert tones broadcast identifying that emergency information is being conveyed so that visually impaired viewers can make arrangements to find out what the emergency is. With hurricane season upon us, the Commission wanted to remind video service providers of these obligations.
The Commission also reminded service providers and viewers of the new complaint process, about which we wrote here, that sets up a process for viewers who believe that there has not been proper captioning information provided. This reminder alone should alert broadcasters and other video program providers of the seriousness with which the FCC views these rules.
Finally, the public notice is notable for its emphasis on the provision of emergency information extending not just to the immediate area in which the emergency is taking place, but also to other areas in which those affected by the emergency may be located. Thus, if evacuees from a hurricane zone are routed to a particular area, and information is broadcast to reach those evacuees to provide important information, that information should be treated as emergency information subject to these rules.
With a big hurricane season predicted, video providers need to pay attention to these rules and obligations to avoid FCC issues after the storm is over.