FCC Convenes Technical Working Group on Captioning and Video Description

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FCC Convenes Technical Working Group on Captioning and Video Description

May 30 2009

Thanks to Cheryl Heppner, executive director of NVRC, whose report in the NVRC News we relied on heavily for this story.

HLAA attended the first meeting of the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Technical Working Group to Study Closed Captioning and Video Description Issues was held May 18, 2009. The Working Group was established to conduct an assessment of closed captioning and video description technical issues associated with the switch to digital television and recommend solutions to any technical problems.

This Working Group is composed of: consumers Cheryl Heppner representing NVRC , Karen Peltz Strauss for the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, and Eric Bridges for American Council for the Blind; industry representatives from a broad cross-section of those who have a role in solving captioning and video description challenges -- broadcast networks, cable companies, trade organizations, captioning and video description providers, television and consumer electronic equipment manufacturers, and captioning equipment manufacturers; and FCC staff Co-Chairs of the working group are Catherine Seidel, head of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and Julius Knapp, Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps gave remarks at the opening of the working group meeting. He called the establishment of the working group “a no brainer” and traced its impetus to numerous requests by the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee and consumer organizations. His presentation was followed by words from Michael Jacobs of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Cathy Seidel and Julius Knapp. They encouraged the identification of issues and proposal of solutions, creation of a clearing house for information, and an open process to diagnose problems.

Chris Soukup of CSD provided a brief presentation on the activities of the Digital TV Help Center launched in February 2009 under a contract with the FCC to assist deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and speech-disabled consumers as well as hearing relatives and friends of these consumers. Then Dana Mulvany, a long-time consumer advocate on captioning issues, gave a presentation that touched on numerous issues such as the standard for transmission of closed captioning data and how different stations handle closed captioning problems. She spoke from personal experience about the difficulty in identifying the source of a captioning problem and provided concrete examples of how sometimes even the local engineers have trouble identifying the source of the problem.

The agenda provided time for open forum for questions from consumers, at which time HLAA, NAD and others in the audience took advantage of the opportunity to provide feedback to and pose questions of the Working Group. At the end of the day, four subcommittees to address closed captioning areas were set up:

  1. Development of a form to diagnose captioning problems.<
  2. Lessons learned from solving captioning problems and “unsolved mysteries”<
  3. Consumer focus group (to look at information available and improvements to make complex things simple)
  4. The HD connection (HDMI, Blu-Ray, other consumer equipment) – finding explanations for what is going on and coming back with potential solutions.

In addition, there seemed to be consensus by the industry reps that they wanted a database or other mechanism to share information with each other to more easily troubleshoot captioning problems. And another subcommittee was set up to resolve issues surrounding video description.

HLAA looks forward to future meetings and the solutions to our captioning problems that this Working Group promises to provide.

For NVRC’s full report on the Technical Working Group, see the NVRC News.