According to sources familiar with the item, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has circulated an order that would give broadcasters two years to translate emergency crawls into audio for the blind and sight-impaired. According to sources at the FCC, some in industry had sought a three-year phase-in, while accessibility advocates had wanted a year.
The FCC does not apply the mandate to over-the-top delivery -- cable ops had suggested that was an issue for another day -- but the order is accompanied by a Notice of Proposed Further Rulemaking that asks how the mandate should apply to IP-delivered services or to the migration of programming to TV everywhere platforms like phones and tablets.
The order implements two portions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 having to do with making sure that emergency information in crawls and graphics that break into regular programming are accessible.
The order is responsive to both an April deadline for the part relating to broadcast and cable operators, and an October adoption deadline targeted to makers of programming. "The chairman wanted to try and wrap up both at the same time," said a source.
The FCC will require broadcasters to air a tone along with on-screen crawls or graphics signaling to the hearing impaired to switch to a second audio channel (SAP), where broadcasters must air an audio version of the text or a description of the graphic.
Cable operators and other MVPDs will have to pass along those descriptions. Some broadcasters, pointing to the difficulty of providing audio for crawls and graphics that are not delivered as text, had suggested the tone could signal the hearing impaired to tune to the radio for emergency info, but the FCC wasn't going for that, said one source.
The National Association of Broadcasters had asked that the mandate apply only to critically urgent information pointing out that not every crawl during a storm "identifies an urgent issue directly affecting life, health, safety or property," for example having to translate the entire list of school closings. The FCC provides some flexibility in the order to deal with those situations.
Only the chairman had voted the item at presstime. But it is expected to be approved.