Federal Communications Commission

fcclogowords.gifCaptioning TV Programs in the USA

Before I go on to discuss the Telecommunications Relay Services NPRM, I wanted to note that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also has oversight of captioning of TV programs in the USA.

TDI petition to the FCC on captioning

On July 23, 2004, Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc, (TDI) filed a Petition for Rulemaking on captioning of TV programs with the FCC. Other deaf and cross-disability organizations joined in the Petition.

FCC assigned a docket number

As a result of the petition, the FCC has assigned a docket number which makes the proceeding on TDI’s petition on captioning quality official and groups together all captioning related comments on the proceeding.
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Increasing television services for blind and deaf people

News Release 26/07/04

Ofcom today announced two new Codes which will require television broadcasters to offer increased services such as subtitling and audio description for the benefit of people with hearing and visual impairment.

Sections 303, 305 and 310 of the Communications Act 2003 require Ofcom to review and revise Codes requiring television broadcasters to provide:

  • Television Access Services, including on-screen subtitling, signing (where an on-screen narrator uses sign language to describe dialogue) and audio description services (an extra soundtrack where a narrator describes events).
  • Services for deaf and blind people using Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs), the on-screen navigational guides listing programme information on digital multi-channel television.

Ofcom published its draft proposals in December 2003. In response to that consultation, disabled groups and individuals pressed Ofcom to require progressive increases in targets for the proportion of programmes supporting these services. Ofcom also received representations from broadcasters concerned about the additional costs involved.

Ofcom’s final Codes on Television Access Services and on Electronic Programme Guides seeks to balance these perspectives whilst building on the work already done by broadcasters and EPG providers. The Codes were also drawn up with input from the Ofcom Advisory Committee on Older and Disabled People.

Ofcom Code on Television Access Services

The Television Access Code will:

  • Apply to some 70 channels as compared with about 50 channels originally proposed in Ofcom’s consultation document. These channels account for more than 95% of peak-time viewing;
  • Continue the annual targets applying to public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV1, Channel 4, S4C and five;
  • Incorporate additional interim targets for subtitling at the end of years one three, five and seven to ensure that other broadcasters make progressive increases towards the statutory target of 80%. The interim targets, which come into force at the end of the year, provide for a similar progression towards the statutory 5% target for signing;
  • Speed up the provision of audio description so that the statutory target of 10% is reached in five years’ time. Ofcom concluded that this was appropriate given that, in recent months, suitable digital terrestrial receivers had become available, and that more broadcasters were providing audio description on their satellite services.

Ofcom Code on Electronic Programme Guides

The Electronic programme Guide Code will require EPG providers to:

  • Provide easily accessible information on how to identify programmes broadcast with subtitling, signing and audio description services.
  • Provide easily accessible information on how to switch on these services.
  • Give ‘appropriate prominence’ to public service channels such as the BBC, ITV1, Channel 4, S4C, five and Teletext and explain their approach to this. As there are different ways which this can be done Ofcom will intervene only if there are complaints, or if it is not content with the way public service channels are displayed;
  • Treat channels listed on their EPGs in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory way;
  • Explain their approach to listing other channels on their EPG, and review this approach from time to time.

Ofcom Partner, Content and Standards Tim Suter said: “Broadcasters and cable providers have already begun to offer some accessibility services to deaf and blind people. We welcome this, and look forward to working with industry to extend these services in the years ahead.”


Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

Ofcom will be making a separate statement in due course about proposals to regulate access to EPGs.

The consultation on the ?Draft Code on Providing Television Access Services? was published on 22 December 2003. The consultation closed on 12 March 2004.

The consultation on the ?Regulation of Electronic Programme Guides? was published on 16 January 2004. The consultation closed on 25 March 2004.
The codes are available on request in Braille, audio and large print from the Ofcom Contact Centre.

For further details please visit www.ofcom.org.uk.


Ofcom Media Office
(+44) (0)20 7981 3033