Requirement applies to all VPDs, even those exempt from captioning requirements

As we reported last month, the process for registering complaints about closed captioning problems has kicked in. And as part of that process, video programming distributors (VPDs) are required to provide to the FCC, by March 22, 2010, contact information (phone/fax/email) so that the FCC will know how to get in touch with the VPD relative to incoming complaints. VPDs can upload their contact information directly to the FCC by going to the designated page on the FCC’s website (which can be accessed by clicking this link), entering their FRN and FRN password, and then providing the necessary information.

Heads up: all VPDs are expected to upload their contact information, even if they happen to enjoy one or another exemption from the captioning requirements. The universe of VPDs subject to the Commission’s closed captioning requirements encompasses all broadcast television stations, including Class A’s and LPTVs. Some VPDs fall under certain exemptions which relieve them from having to caption programming that is not otherwise captioned.  (For example, VPDs are not required to caption programming if that captioning would cost more than two percent of the VPD’s gross revenues. Similarly, VPDs aren’t required to spend any money to caption their programming if their channel produces less than $3 million in annual gross revenues.) Those exemptions do not relieve the VPD of the obligation to provide contact information as specified by the rules.

While it may seem counterintuitive to require exempt VPDs to post their contact information, there is some common sense at work here. The exemptions apply in large measure to programming that the VPD itself produces. But those exemptions do not relieve stations – including LPTVs – of the obligation to pass through, with the captioning intact, programming which has already been captioned by others upstream in the program distribution chain. In other words, even though a station does not have to caption the programming that it itself produces, that doesn’t mean that the station doesn’t broadcast some (and maybe a lot of) programming that is captioned. And viewers who rely on that captioning will – so the theory goes – want and need contact information if it turns out that there’s a problem with the captioning.

Staff reachable through the provided contact information should be able to “to immediately respond to and address consumers’ concerns.” However, that does not mean that the VPD should be on the hook for any additional costs. The rule (Section 79.1(i)) specifically provides that the “contact information” requirement does not mean that VPDs must alter their normal staffing schedules. However, when staff are available to deal with technical questions, they must know how to deal with closed captioning concerns. In the case of a VPD which is itself exempt from any captioning requirements, the staff reachable through the “contact information” listing should know how, and to whom, to refer any concerns about captioning problems in programming provided by third parties. All closed captioning calls or inquiries should be returned or otherwise addressed within 24 hours.