The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has largely granted the NAB’s request and will again extend for 18 months to November 26, 2024, the effective date of the FCC’s rule governing accessibility of emergency communications. This rule requires broadcasters to provide, during non-newscast programming, an aural representation of any visual, non-textual emergency information, such as radar maps or other graphics, on a secondary audio stream. Specifically, the rule in question requires TV stations and other video programming providers to ensure that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast programming is made accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through the use of a secondary audio stream to provide such information aurally. The aural description of this information must accurately and effectively convey the critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency. This rule was originally slated to go into effect on May 26, 2015, but the deadline has previously been extended several times. It now is being extended for another 18 months, through November 26, 2024, though with conditions.

The problem with the rule has been that there still is no workable solution based on existing technology that can perform the functions required by the rule. For example, an automated text-to-speech solution cannot be used to aurally describe maps and other graphics because they do not contain text files that can be converted to speech. NAB has stated that it is hopeful that new Artificial Intelligence capabilities and/or the increased adoption of ATSC 3.0 in more markets may help. Plus, the NAB pointed out, the critical details of an emergency provided in a visual, non-textual graphics, such as radar maps, are usually duplicative of the information provided in accompanying textual crawls, which are already aurally described and therefore accessible. Accordingly, the NAB asked for a two-year extension so that the anticipated further developments can take place.

Instead, the FCC granted an 18-month extension, on the condition that the NAB file quarterly reports to provide ongoing updates. These reports must cover the following: (1) the extent to which broadcasters still need the waiver; (2) a description of the NAB’s outreach to the disability community and its efforts to develop standards and best practices and train broadcasters in their use so that critical details are conveyed to the blind or visually impaired; (3) a description of the NAB’s and broadcasters’ efforts to develop an automated solution to enable compliance with the aural description requirement; and (4) a description of training and best practices for broadcasters to offer effective communication of critical emergency information. Additionally, if an effective and preferred alternative to an automated technical solution is developed during the waiver period, subsequent reports should provide information as to the implementation of this alternative solution. The first quarterly report will be due September 1, 2023. Thus, the extension was granted the Friday before Memorial Day, and the first report will be due the Friday before Labor Day. Have a good summer, and if you have any questions, please contact your attorney here at FHH!