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MAG Guide Vol. 12

Filing a complaint with the FCC about non-compliance with closed captioning rules
In 1997, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a set of mandates for the provision of closed captioning, which ensured that American audiences with hearing disabilities could enjoy access to television programming that was once unavailable to them. If you are a viewer who is deaf or hard of hearing--or are the parent, guardian or teacher of someone who is--program distributors' compliance with the mandates is vitally important. For those who think that their program provider may not be in compliance with the FCC's captioning rules, a summary of the Report and Order, its 1998 update and a list of the affected providers are available for your information on the Media Access Group's Web site at http://access.wgbh.org. The full Report and Order on Closed Captioning (FCC #97-279, adopted August 1997, updated September 1998) is available on the FCC's Web site at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/caption.html.

Filing a complaint with the FCC

The FCC has developed guidelines for filing complaints when a program provider--broadcast station, cable operator or satellite service--does not meet the requirements of the closed captioning mandates. If your program provider fails to provide a minimum amount of captioning, airs unreadable captions or does not provide captions with broadcasts of emergency information, you are encouraged to file an informal complaint with the FCC. When filing, please forward a copy of your complaint to the Media Access Group at WGBH (access@wgbh.org) so that we are aware of captioning problems. The FCC will then intervene with that program provider on your behalf to investigate and enforce compliance with the rules. To assist you in the complaint process, we have prepared a brief summary of the FCC complaint procedure, as well as sample complaints about several closed captioning problems.

When filing an informal complaint with the FCC, you should include the following information (see sample letter A):

  • Your name, address and daytime (Monday-Friday) telephone number (voice or TTY) and/or e-mail address

  • The names of both the programmer (e.g., News Channel 13) and program distributor (e.g., ACME Cable of Maplewood) against whom the complaint is alleged

  • Specific information and details about the nature of the problem, including the
  • date and time of the occurrence. In cases of uncaptioned emergency information, please include the type of emergency.

Complaints regarding uncaptioned emergency information should be sent to the
FCC as soon as possible following the date of the occurrence. In turn, the FCC
will notify the programming distributor of the complaint, and the distributor will need to reply to the complaint within 30 days.

Sample letter A:
Complaint letter to the FCC about closed captioning


January 21, 2003

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

RE: Omission of closed captions on emergency information
by Fox affiliate WXYZ-TV*

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to register a complaint regarding the broadcast of uncaptioned emergency information by Fox affiliate WXYZ-TV in Philadelphia, PA. It is my understanding that the FCC requires that closed captions must accompany all televised emergency information announcements. However, during a snow emergency on the evening of January 18, 2003, which involved severe icing and wind conditions, no closed captions were provided with the emergency storm warning that aired during the 5pm newscast. Although she was watching the news, my elderly mother--who is severely hearing-disabled--was unaware of the dangerous conditions. As a result, upon stepping outside to put out the trash, she slipped on some ice and injured her hip.

As you can imagine, I am very upset by the lack of accessible emergency information broadcast by your station. I hope that your office can assure me that all future emergency announcements on WXYZ-TV will be closed-captioned. I would appreciate any guarantee you can give my family--and others with family members who are deaf or hard of hearing--in this matter. If you have any questions about this situation, please contact me. Thank you.

Sincerely,

John Doe
444 Main Street
Philadelphia, PA 11112
215-555-2222 work
215-666-3333 home
jdoe@yahoo.com

cc: Media Access Group at WGBH

*This program provider and situation are fictional

There are several ways to file an informal complaint with the FCC, which include:

* Mail Written complaints can be sent to the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554.

* Telephone The FCC's Consumer and Mediation Specialists are available
by telephone Monday-Friday, 8am-5:30pm (ET). Call them toll-free at 888.CALL.FCC (888.225.5322/voice) or 888.TELL.FCC (888.835.5322/TTY).

* E-Mail Written complaints can be e-mailed to fccinfo@fcc.gov.

* Electronically Complaints can be filed online through the FCC's Web site at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.

* Fax Written complaints can be faxed to the FCC at 202.418.0232.

Note: Please send a copy of your letter to the Media Access Group at WGBH,
125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134; fax: 617.300.1020; e-mail: access@wgbh.org.

Should the problem remain uncorrected following intervention by the FCC, you should then file a formal complaint with that program provider, following the guidelines below. In cases of uncaptioned emergency information, intervention by the FCC is usually effective in resolving the issue. Please note: Before you may file a formal complaint with the FCC, you must verify that you have, in good faith, attempted to resolve the dispute with the program provider. Formal complaints should be sent to the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

When filing a complaint with your local program provider (local television station, cable operator or satellite provider), you should include the following information (see sample letter B):

* Your name, address and daytime (Monday-Friday) telephone number
(voice or TTY) and/or e-mail address

* Specific information and details about the nature of the problem, including
the date, time and/or program during which the infraction occurred. In cases of uncaptioned emergency information, please include the type of emergency.

The FCC requires that viewers file their formal complaints with the program provider by the end of the calendar quarter following the quarter in which the violation occurred. The program provider must resolve the problem within 45 days following the end of the calendar quarter in which the violation occurred or within 45 days of receiving the complaint, whichever is later. For the most expedient results, we encourage consumers to file formal complaints as soon as possible following the occurrence.

Example of the 45-day rule:
* Closed captioning problem occurred February 10, 2003 (1st quarter)
* File informal complaint with the FCC on February 17, 2003 (the sooner the better)
* [The FCC intervenes on your behalf; provider fails to resolve the problem]
* File formal complaint with the program provider by June 30, 2003
(end of 2nd quarter)
* Program provider must resolve problem by August 14, 2003 (45 days after complaint)

Resources

For additional information about closed captioning, visit our Web site http://access.wgbh.org or contact us at:

Media Access Group at WGBH
125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134
617.300.3600 voice/TTY
617.300.1020 fax
access@wgbh.org e-mail

Sample letter B:
Complaint letter to a local station about closed captioning


June 30, 2003

Mr. Samuel Smith
Station Manager
WPQR-TV
123 Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 11111

RE: Unreadable closed captions broadcast by WPQR-TV*

Dear Mr. Smith:

I would like to register a formal complaint regarding the poor quality of closed captions on some children's programming being broadcast daily on WPQR-TV. As the mother of a home-schooled eight-year-old boy who is deaf, I value the closed captioning on your kids' shows and often integrate them into my lessons. However, during the month of February 2003, and a number of times since, I have noticed several examples of unreadable and garbled words during the Arthur program (weekdays at 4pm). Specifically, during the week of February 10-14, this program contained a number of garbled words, rendering the captions only partially readable. Because he is profoundly deaf, my son relies 100% on the captions to understand and enjoy the program content.

I'm very eager for your station to resolve this problem for the benefit of the children in our community who are deaf or hard of hearing. If you need any additional information from me in order to investigate this service issue, please let me know. I can be reached at 215-555-2222 or via e-mail at janedoe@yahoo.com. Please note that the FCC requires that you correct the garbled caption problem within 45 days of this complaint, which would be by August 14, 2003.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe
444 Main Street
Philadelphia, PA 11112
215-555-2222 work
215-666-3333 home
janedoe@yahoo.com

cc: Media Access Group at WGBH

*This program provider and situation are fictional


















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