Friday, November 6, 2009

Only Half Access to Cable Without HR 3101

How people get their cable TV is going to change very soon - and deaf and hard of hearing viewers are at risk for only getting half the access to what they pay for. Comcast is going to offer their cable programming online starting in December. (Time Warner, Verizon, and DirecTV are planning to do the same. Apple plans a TV service via iTunes) Hearing people will pay one fee and for that one fee, have the choice of watching their cable either on regular television or on the Internet. Deaf people? For now, outta luck, based on what Rosaline Crawford, Director of the Law and Advocacy Center at the National Association of the Deaf, said.

Jamie asked:
"There is a clear trend towards cable TV companies offering access to cable programming via the Internet. People can pay for a cable subscription, then view it on either Internet or regular TV. My question is, when the cable programming is shown on the Internet, are the captions shown too? In other words, do the line 21 captions carry through to the Internet?"

Rosaline's response:
"Today, most TV video programming distributed over the Internet does not have closed captions. That's one of the reasons why we need to get H.R. 3101 passed. When passed, H.R. 3101 will ensure that broadcasters and "multichannel video programming distributors" (such as cable and satellite TV companies) will provide closed captions for the video programming they distribute over the Internet.

How those closed captions will be transmitted over the Internet is a question best addressed by people with technical expertise. As I understand it, the caption codes transmitted for decoding and display on TVs (called "line 21 captions") need to be reconfigured when a program is distributed over the Internet. In other words, Internet caption technology is not the same as TV "line 21 caption" technology. There are many groups and people working to develop a standard for Internet captions. It also makes sense that this new standard for Internet captions will build on and take advantage of existing "line 21 captions," so the entire process of producing captions does not need to be repeated for TV programs redistributed over the Internet.

The National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM at WGBH) spearheaded a group of Internet service providers to address Internet captioning. See Recently, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) established a working group to create an industry standard for Internet captioning. See I have heard that the SMPTE standard may be established by the end of this year; they are very close to finishing. Also recently, NCAM at WGBH demonstrated that real-time captions for TV could be multi-purposed for a real-time simultaneous webcast. See

What I do know is that Internet captioning is possible. That is a fact demonstrated every day on many websites -- even YouTube. Having a standard for Internet captioning will just make it easier for everyone in the chain of video programming -- from production to distribution -- to provide captions."

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