In general, closed captioning rules for PEG channels are the same as for all other television stations with one exception – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). PEG operators whose budgets are tied to their local governments overall budget are considered to be public entities under Title II of the ADA and as such, are required to provide services to accommodate persons with disabilities. So while PEG operators may be exempt from certain accessibility requirements under FCC rules, they need to consider how they might be impacted by ADA requirements.
“Entities that qualify for an exemption under Section 713 (undue burden) may be obligated under other federal statutes, such as the ADA, to make their services and programs, including video programming services, accessible to an individual with disability upon request,” according to the FCC.
Many PEG’s in smaller markets assume that the small size of their budget will provide an exemption from the above requirements. However, in reviewing these exemption requests, the Justice Department can and will look at the overall budget for the entity, not just the budget of the station. Entities that we work with spend between $5000 and $50000 per year on captioning. Compare that to the overall size of your municipality’s budget when considering whether accommodations present an undue burden.
Other issues aside, the general rules for captioning fall into two categories, television and internet.
Television Captioning Rules
For television, the FCC dictates that all “new, non-exempt” programming must be captioned and 75 percent of all “pre-rule” programming must be captioned. “Pre-rule” programming constitutes all analog-based programming published before January 1st, 1998 and all digital programs published before July 1, 2002.
Internet Captioning Rules
Internet rules vary if the program is a full-length show, video clip or archived program. According to FCC rules, full length programming for the internet, previously broadcast with captions, must have captions if “the program was prerecorded, not edited for the internet and aired after September 30th, 2012.” The same caption rule applies if the program was “prerecorded and substantially edited after and aired after September 30, 2013.” If the program aired “live or near live after March 30, 2013” then it must have captions as well.
Any archived PEG programs on the internet must be captioned “within 15 days after being televised with captions as of March 30 of 2016,” according to the FCC.
Clips or montages PEG programs must be captioned on the internet if the clip is a single excerpt of a program. As of January 1, 2017, clips that are montages must be captioned and starting July 1, 2017 “clips of live or near-live programming must also have captions,” according to the FCC.
Finally, let’s talk briefly about caption quality. FCC rules for caption quality are fairly straightforward. They must be accurate, meaning the caption must reflect the whole dialogue, other sounds, music and must identify speakers. The captions must sync with corresponding dialogue and sounds as much as possible and appear to viewers at reasonable times. The captions must run the whole length of the program and they are not to cover up important on-screen information such as, character faces, featured text and graphics. Captioning quality for the internet must be at least the same quality when it was originally aired.
Captioning across both broadcast and internet mediums is getting easier thanks to the availability of new equipment from vendors responding to the new requirements. The main piece of equipment that is required is a caption encoder. Newer HD encoders from companies such as Link Electronics have separate outputs for broadcast and internet feeds with captions. You’ll need to think also about video file storage for rebroadcast purposes but even that is getting better. Some systems will allow you to store video with captions intact for rebroadcast.