WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has decided not to require cable operators to add new information to their on-screen program guides as part of a congressional accessibility mandate.
The commission last week voted on the last major implementation of rules for the 2010 Twenty-First Century Communications Video Accessibility Act, a mouthful of a title and among its more complicated orders in recent memory, according to someone who helped formulate them.
The rules deal with the accessibility of on-screen TV-programming guides for the blind and visually impaired. They do not require that all cable set-top boxes be compliant, only that compliant devices be made available upon request. Cable operators will have three years from the Office of Management and Budget’s sign-off of the implementation order to comply, but midsized and smaller operators can ask for up to five years.
Cable-supplied boxes and software must be compliant, but cable operators won’t be responsible for third-party boxes or any third-party software a consumer decides to download. Those provisions are all victories for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which opposed such mandates and wanted the FCC to clarify the “on request” part of the mandates.
The NCTA had argued that the act did not give the FCC the authority to mandate any new information, as public, educational and government channel operators had asked for.
Essentially, the FCC decided not to mandate any additional guide information, only require that whatever was in the guides be accessible, though it will seek more information on guide content.
While larger cable operators will have three years to comply, the FCC will allow systems with 400,000 or fewer subscribers that aren’t owned by one of the two largest operators up to five years to comply — they must request an extension — and systems of 20,000 or fewer subscribers, no matter who owns them.
While the statute would have allowed the FCC to exempt those smallest of the small systems, the agency did not choose to do so.
The FCC also issued a proposed notice of further rulemaking teeing up some questions, like whether or not it should put requirements on what information should be in the guide. Some disability groups weighed in on the side of PEG operators, so the FCC decided to seek more info on the question.
Most MSOs will have three years to comply with FCC rules requiring inclusion of information for the visually impaired in programming guides.