In an Order released Friday, The FCC gave TV broadcasters five more years to convert non-textual emergency information delivered to audiences outside of news programs into speech that is broadcast on station’s Secondary Audio Programming (“SAP”) channels, usually used for Spanish and other non-English translations of television programs. Broadcasters, as we have written before (see our articles here, here and here) are already required to take textual information (like textual crawls) containing emergency information that is broadcast outside of news programming and to provide those messages in audio on SAP channels so that visually impaired viewers can get the emergency information. The blind and others with visual impairments are notified of the emergency information that is contained in a crawl by the audible tones that stations air when they are providing such information.

While the textual information can be converted to speech to be broadcast on the SAP channels though automated means, the NAB, the American Council of the Blind, and the American Foundation for the Blind submitted a request for a further waiver of the rules that would otherwise require that non-textual information like weather maps be converted into speech, noting that none of these organizations could find any source for an accurate means to make that conversion automatically. See our article here on the waiver request. The costs and potential inaccuracies of station employees trying to provide such descriptions live at a station precluded live description from being a viable solution. Thus, the FCC gave the parties five years to develop an automated system to provide such descriptions.

The NAB will need to report to the FCC on its progress at the midway point of this 5 year waiver period. The FCC also urged stations to do their best to insure that the information shown on maps and other non-textual emergency information be conveyed in textual alerts, so that the public can receive information about emergency situations. In the same order, the FCC granted a permanent waiver of this requirement to analog-only cable systems that lack the equipment to pass through the audio from such alerts.