FCC Studies Audio Service

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Washington -- The FCC wants to hear comments on
implementing audio technology that would assist visually impaired television viewers.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to
issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on video-description services -- which provide audio
descriptions of program action, in addition to spoken dialogue.

"We are in a period in our history where industry is
investing billions and billions of dollars in upgrading all of our networks,"
chairman William Kennard said. "Now is the time to make sure that these accessibility
issues are dealt with in the design phase."

The proposal will seek comments on the ability of the top
four broadcast networks, the top 25 television markets and the largest multichannel-video
distributors to provide a minimum of 50 hours of video descriptions per quarter beginning
18 months after the new rules are implemented.

The top TV and video providers can best afford the
improvement, and they have the most technical know-how, FCC attorney Eric Bash said.

Video description is currently available on select public
TV stations on a second soundtrack known as an SAP (second audio program) channel.
Audiences can adjust their televisions to turn the service on and off, similar to
Spanish-language-dubbing systems.

Commissioner Gloria Tristani said she would head an effort
to minimize any possible conflicts between video-description and foreign-language

"It makes a tremendous difference," said Alan
Clive, who is on the board of Ear for the Blind, an over-the-telephone reading service
here. "It would make it possible to watch many more programs that I tend to avoid
because I know there's going to be a lot of visual material and it's just not
worth the effort."

States News Service