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John Eggerton

FCC Proposes Audio Descriptions for All TV Stations

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel at NAB Show in 2022

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed extending its audio description mandate to TV stations in all markets by 2035, unanimously approving a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that would make that the case. The issue is one chair Jessica Rosenworcel is intimately familiar with from her days on Capitol Hill.

Audio descriptions provide narration for non-dialogue scenes for the blind and visually impaired. For instance, “Fred moves to the window and sees dino burying an odd-looking bone.”

The mandate has applied to stations in the top 60 Nielsen markets per Congress' direction in the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. That legislation also allows the FCC to extend the mandate to 10 more markets per year unless the cost of doing so for smaller markets is not “reasonable.’

The FCC extended the mandate to 40 more markets in 2020, adding 10 markets a year through 2024.

The FCC voted Thursday to propose adding 10 more per year after that until all 210 markets have such descriptions, which would take until 2035 at that rate.

“It was more than a decade ago that Congress made audio description generally available when it passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act,” Rosenworcel said. ”It’s a law I know well because I worked on it as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. When it was passed, it required that the Commission make audio description available on programming in the largest 60 television markets across the country. A little over two years ago, the Commission expanded this requirement …  Today we propose to finish the job by reaching all 210 markets in the United States.”

The FCC will collect input on the notice and then take a final vote before the change would go into effect. ■

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