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FCC Closed Captioning Rules & How to File a Complaint


Understanding the FCC rules for closed captions is beneficial for video and audio content producers and individuals alike. Additionally, knowing how to move forward with a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) complaint is similarly valuable.

Closed captioning makes video and audio content accessible, ensuring the 48 million Americans with hearing impairments can enjoy a wider array of content. Essentially, closed captioning supports accessibility, and there are strict rules about the creation and supplying of closed captions. If you’d like to learn more about the FCC requirements and how to file a complaint, here’s what you need to know.


FCC Closed Captioning Rules

FCC closed captioning standard rules mandate closed captions for most TV content. Generally, closed captions are required for television programming – including movies played through covered providers – that’s aired by select video programming distributors, including broadcast channels, cable companies, satellite companies, and other multi-channel programming distributors.

Additionally, the FCC sets quality standards for closed captioning. The created captions must be:

  • Accurate, matching the spoken dialogue and describing background sounds to the fullest extent possible
  • Synchronous, timing the text to display when the dialogue is spoken, or when a sound occurs to the greatest possible extent while ensuring the speed supports readability
  • Complete, running the captions from the start of the program to the end to the fullest degree possible
  • Properly placed, positioning the captions to avoid blocking relevant visual content, prevent captions from going off the end of the screen, and avoid overlapping captions

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also plays a role in certain internet-based programming, such as what’s produced and shown on major streaming services. In those cases, a relatively recent ruling made closed captioning mandatory for much of the content accessed through streaming services.

Alternative Standards and Exemptions

There are situations where the FCC closed captioning rules do vary from the standards above. Additionally, specific programming is exempt from the requirements.

When it comes to alternative standards, those most commonly apply to live or near-live programming. With live and near-live programming, captions are created as the show unfolds. Since keeping pace is challenging, the resulting captions may be slightly asynchronous. Additionally, errors are more tolerated, as creating captions live requires balancing accuracy with timeliness.

Certain television programming is eligible for self-implementing exemptions, so following the close captioning requirements isn’t required. Generally, this includes, but is not limited to:

  • Public service announcements not paid for with federal dollars that are less than 10 minutes in length
  • Locally produced non-news programs without repeat value
  • Programming in languages other than English or Spanish
  • Shows running between 2:00 am and 6:00 am local time
  • Programming that is primarily text or image-based
  • And more

The rules also vary with internet video programming that’s shown on TV. Those FCC requirements are nuanced and production date based, so closed captioning isn’t universally required with programs of that nature. 


How to File an FCC Complaint About Closed Captions

If you experience a closed captioning issue, the FCC recommends contacting the distributor immediately to report the program. The FCC maintains a distributor directory to provide individuals with relevant contact information for reporting problems directly to service providers.

Viewers also have the ability to file an FCC complaint if there are closed captioning issues with non-emergency programming. The complaint must be filed within 60 days of the closed captioning issue occurring. Once filed, the FCC forwards the complaint to the distributor, which has 30 days to respond.

Contacting the FCC to file a complaint is simple. You can go online to file a closed captioning complaint with the FCC. You also have the option of filing by phone. Call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or use the ASL line at 1-844-432-2275.

Filing a complaint by email is another possible approach. Reach the FCC with the relevant information at [email protected].

Finally, you can submit a complaint by mail at:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
45 L Street NE
Washington, DC 20554

Make sure you include your contact information. Additionally, outline the name of the distributor, channel number, network name, and other details about where the issue took place. Include a date and time of when the problem arose, if possible, or include information on the name of the program.

After that, include a detailed description of the closed captioning issue or error. You can also provide videos or photos of the problem if they’re available.

Providing comprehensive information can speed up the timeline for resolution. As a result, you want to focus on the details, giving as much evidence as you can when you file the FCC complaint.


Do You Need a Reliable Translator for Your Videos or Programs?

Since FCC rules and ADA mandates regarding closed captions are strict, finding a reliable translation service is essential. With the right language services provider, you can increase accessibility while ensuring you meet all of the legal requirements.

At Acutrans, we strive to continuously adhere to the strictest standards when providing closed caption translations, ensuring you get top-quality results. If you need a professional translator for closed-caption translations, Acutrans can meet that need quickly and efficiently. Acutrans also provides general translation and industry-leading interpretation services on-site, over the phone, and video remote, making it easier to cover all of your language service needs.

If you’re looking for top-quality translated closed captions, the Acutrans team offers a fast, dependable, and professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.