Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s new rules that permit AM broadcasters to convert to all-digital operations became effective April 29.  The new rules

In several recent cases, the FCC has denied exemptions from the requirement that programming carried on TV stations and MVPDs have closed captions to serve the hearing impaired members of the viewing audience. While exemptions from these requirements are allowed if a programmer can demonstrate that the captioning would present an economic hardship, these waivers are difficult to receive as a programmer must show that, looking at its overall operations, there are insufficient financial resources to afford the captioning for the program (see our article here). In the recent cases, the FCC has looked beyond simply the net income of the programmer in deciding if the programmer is financially capable of paying for the captioning, and in cases released yesterday, the FCC also looked at the overall assets of the programmer to see if it has the capacity to caption the program. Even if funds must be diverted from other programs of the programmer, the availability of funds to the programming organization was enough for the FCC to deny the requested exemption. Specifically, in the three recent cases, religious organizations which produced a single program claimed that, in order to caption their programs, they would have to divert resources from other programs. The FCC found that, as long as the money is there, the programs need to be captioned even if other activities of the organization suffer.

The FCC made that clear in a case decided a few weeks ago. There, it decided that, if a church had sufficient income to pay for captioning, even if it had to divert resources from other “ministries” engaged in by the church, it could not escape the obligation to caption its program. That case was relied on in another decision released yesterday, where a religious organization had been operating at a close to break-even mark over the two years for which it provided its finances, as the FCC said that it had sufficient assets to pay for the captioning – not relying solely on the income of the organization. In another case involving a larger church with greater income and expenses (which were also roughly in balance in the last two years according to the financial statements provided), the FCC there too looked to the current assets of the church (including investments in securities, bank deposits and pledges receivable). The fact that these assets were significantly in excess of current liabilities, led to a determination that captioning was financially feasible for this church. The FCC also rejected an argument that its rules placed an unconstitutional burden on religious freedom – finding that the burden was one imposed on all programmers and was not directed to religious programmers, and was therefore constitutional. So what does it take to get an exemption?
Continue Reading Church Programming Not Exempt From Captioning Requirements – FCC Looks to Total Assets of Programmer in Denying Economic Exemptions, and Decides There are No Religious Freedom Constitutional Issues

We are often asked by television broadcasters if specialty programming – particularly local programming, like a local church’s broadcast of its Sunday morning church service – is covered by the FCC’s closed captioning obligations.  In a decision released on Friday, the FCC staff denied the request of a church for an exemption from the rules requiring the closed captioning of most television programming, and may have helped to make clear an answer to those questions.  This decision also helps to clear up a big question that has been hanging over such programs, for over 3 years since the FCC reversed dozens of prior waivers granted by its staff to nonprofit groups claiming that the captioning would be economically burdensome on their operations (including the waiver that had been granted to this church).  So what factors did the Commission review in denying this “economically burdensome” waiver request?

In 2011, the Commission stated that its staff had to consider the overall circumstances of each petitioner in evaluating economic waivers of the captioning rules, and could not simply rely on the fact that the petitioner was a nonprofit organization the FCC.  After revoking the waivers, the Commission asked the groups whose waivers were revoked to refile their requests with greater detail and support, not simply relying on the fact that the proponent was a nonprofit organization.  Factors to be considered in evaluating any claim that the captioning obligation was economically burdensome include: (1) the cost of the closed captions for the programming and attempts of the programmer to find cheaper sources of captioning; (2) the impact of the captioning obligation on the operation of the provider or program owner; (3) detailed information on the financial resources of the provider or program owner including income and expense statements for the prior two years; (4) attempts to get outside sponsors for the programming or support from the station on which the programming is to be broadcast; and (5) the type of operations of the provider or program owner.  In applying these factors in the decision released on Friday, the FCC staff concluded that the church had not justified a waiver because it had sufficient funds from which to pay the cost of the captioning. 
Continue Reading FCC Denies Closed Captioning Waiver for Church Service – Clarifying New Standards on “Economically Burdensome” Exceptions to Captioning Requirements

As we reported last week, the FCC has adopted a Report and Order establishing rules for the closed captioning of video programming delivered via Internet protocol (i.e., IP video), as required by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). DWT has now released an advisory with further details about the new

Yesterday, the FCC released an Order that reversed a five-year-old decision by its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (“CGB” or “Bureau”) that had granted certain video programmers “undue burden” exemptions from the FCC’s closed captioning rules. The reversed Bureau decision had changed the criteria for undue burden exemptions and permanently exempted two video programmers from compliance with the closed captioning rules on the basis of the new criteria. Finding that the Bureau’s new criteria deviated from both the statute and FCC precedent, the Commission overturned the decision, reversed 296 subsequent exemptions that had been granted by the Bureau in reliance thereon, and reinstated the original criteria for captioning exemptions. DWT has just released an advisory that provides more detail about the Commission’s decision, which can be found here. In addition, a copy of the Commission’s Order can be found here.

In overturning the undue burden exemptions CGB approved in 2006, the Commission found numerous faults with both the Bureau’s initial decision and its handling of hundreds of subsequent petitions seeking similar exemptions. Although undue burden exemptions were to be reviewed by the Commission on a case-by-case basis after opportunity for public comment and were to consider four factors: (1) the nature and cost of the closed captions for the programming; (2) the impact on the operation of the provider or program owner; (3) the financial resources of the provider or program owner; and (4) the type of operations of the provider or program owner, the Bureau deviated from previous Commission decisions by expanding the scope of the factors considered.  In particular, its decision relied primarily on the non-profit status of programming providers and that the programming was not produced for primarily commercial purposes.  Further, the Bureau found captioning programs would constitute a “significant hardship” and that there was a significant risk that mandating captioning would cause the video programming provider to cancel the programming.
 


Continue Reading FCC Overturns Hundreds of TV Closed Captioning Exemptions and Clarifies “Economically Burdensome” Standard in Connection with Captioning Rules

As our colleague Brian Hurh wrote today on our sister blog, www.broadbandlawadvisor.com, the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee has released its Report to the FCC on the closed captioning of IP-video programming as required by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act passed last October.  A copy of the report released today is available here

As summarized by Brian Hurh on our sister site broadbandlawadvisor.com, yesterday the FCC’s Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau released a Public Notice seeking comments to refresh the record on closed captioning that was last addressed in the Commission’s 2005 and 2008 Closed Captioning NPRMs. As recognized by the Commission, much has happened since those

The FCC today issued a further Public Notice reminding all Video Programming Distributors (VPDs)— including those who might otherwise be exempt from some elements of the closed captioning rules — to register their contact information with the FCC.  All VPDs, including television stations, should have already identified appropriate contact people within their organizations and filed their contact information

Just a reminder that all Video Programming Distributors — which includes broadcast television stations —  must identify a contact person for closed captioning issues, both immediate issues and general complaints, and file that contact information with the FCC by March 22, 2010.  As we’ve discussed previously, new FCC closed captioning rules recently went into effect