How to file a captioning complaint with the Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) encourages feedback from television viewers. According to the FCC, a complaint is a form of feedback, and the Commission wants feedback from viewers. Any television viewer who cares about captioning quality is encouraged to file a complaint whenever they see poor captioning, and you can easily file a complaint from the fcc.gov website.

Many television stations are now using machine captioning as opposed to human captioning or simply the teleprompter. Several companies provide machine captioning to the television stations. These companies and their products are IBM (Watson), ENCO (enCaption3 and 4),  Link (ACE Encoders), and EEG (Lexi).

To file a complaint, we suggest you focus on accuracy, which is one of the four tenets of captioning quality established by the FCC in 2014 (the others are synchronicity, completeness, and placement).

To be accurate, captions must reflect the dialogue and other sounds and music in the audio track to the fullest extent possible based on the type of the programming. Accuracy also requires captions to identify the speakers. We find that automatic captioning violates this standard in many ways:

  • Punctuation: Machine captioning provides limited, or wrong, punctuation.
  • Speaker identification: Machine captioning does not identify speakers with >> or names, often including captions from multiple speakers in the same line.
  • Lyrics and Sound Effects: The FCC Caption Quality best practices clearly state that lyrics and sound effects much be included when measuring accuracy. Engines don’t.
  • Proper Nouns:  Proper nouns are a problem with many engines, especially those not properly trained.

When you watch television programming, keep these criteria in mind, and make notes of any errors in these areas that you see. Try to take photos or record video on your phone to upload with your complaint. In the complaint form provided by the FCC, you will be asked to elucidate the errors and mistakes that you see. You may also attach a screen shot or video showing what you are making a complaint about.

When you open the complaint form provided by the FCC, you need to fill in the following fields.

  • Your email address
  • Subject of the complaint (e.g.: [Station] does not meet FCC quality standards)
  • Description of the complaint (detail the specific instances)
  • Accessibility issues (choose “Closed Captioning on TV” for TV programs)

Once you choose your accessibility issue, additional fields will appear. Those with an asterisk are mandatory.

  • *Preferred method of response: The FCC and the station have to respond to your complaints. This will allow you to choose what medium they use to do so. Your options are email, fax, letter, other, relay service, telephone, and TTY.
  • Name of company complaining about: Enter the name of the specific station.
  • City of Company Complaining About: Enter the city in which the station is located. For national feeds, you may need to look up the station online.
  • State of Company Complaining About
  • Zip Code of Company Complaining About
  • Phone Number of Company Complaining About
  • *Date of Your Issue: you must enter an actual date, even if the problem is continuous.
  • *Time of Your Issue
  • *Your TV Method (cable, satellite, fiber, internet, over the air)
  • *Name of Subscription Service (your cable company)
  • TV Channel
  • Call Sign
  • Network
  • Name of TV Program
  • *City Where Program Was Viewed
  • *State Where Program Was Viewed
  • *Your First Name
  • *Your Last Name
  • *Address 1
  • Address 2
  • *City
  • *State
  • *Zip
  • *Phone
  • *Filing on behalf of someone? (yes/no)
  • Attachments: Include here any photos or video you may have taken of the captioning errors

After you complete and submit the complaint to the FCC, the FCC will evaluate the complaints and contact you if more details are provided. After this, they generally reach out to the programmer or TV station. At that point, the station may also contact you, to compile their response to the FCC. This can take 30-60 days. When you receive these responses, please forward them to NCRA’s Government Relations Manager Matt Barusch at mbarusch@ncra.org, for record keeping.

NCRA believes that machine captioning is not ready for live television programming or any other live events. We know the companies behind this technology will keep working to improve their products. NCRA is committed to providing the best possible access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Fresno County court workers threatening to strike if agreement on contract not met

Station KFSN reported on Oct. 16, that close to 280 Fresno County, Calif., court workers, including court reporters, could walk off the job if an agreement isn’t reached soon with court administrators.

Read more.

Watch video.

Court reporter transcription fees increase 

The South Carolina Lawyers Weekly reported on Oct. 17, that attorneys in the state will have to pay more for official transcripts after the state’s Supreme Court approved an amendment to its Appellate Court Rules that bumped up court reporter transcription fees across the state. Notable among the transcription fee increases is a $1 price-per-page increase to produce an original transcript.

Read more. (Subscription required.)

Court reporters seek regulation 

The Virginia Lawyers Weekly reported on Oct. 16, that Virginia court reporters plan to seek state regulation in the 2019 General Assembly, according to materials submitted to a panel that recommends changes in the law for civil practice

Read more. (Subscription required.)

Report from the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee meeting

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) met on Oct. 3 for the last meeting of their second term. This committee comprises organizations in the telecommunications and accessibility realms and provides recommendations on accessibility regulations for the full commission. NCRA has participated for many years in this committee as subcommittee members of the Video Programming subcommittee, which occasionally crafts recommendations on captioning regulations and best practices for the full committee to consider. In attendance at this meeting were NCRA President Sue Terry, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC; Board Member Steve Clark, CRC; members Kelly Linkowski, RPR, CRR, CRC, CPE, and Darlene Parker, FAPR, RPR; and NCRA’s Government Relations Manager Matthew Barusch. The meeting was captioned by a live captioner, with captions shown in the room and streamed on the Web, along with StreamText captions.

Much of the agenda for this meeting was dedicated to consideration and approval of recommendations from other subcommittees, as well as a robust discussion on methods to increase consumer engagement. However, a portion of the meeting was dedicated to a review of possible topics of consideration for the DAC’s next term. Included on this list is the issue of automatic speech recognition, including the possible development of technology-neutral captioning quality metrics. As stated by Will Schell, Advising Attorney for the FCC’s Disability Rights Office, the recommendation is for the committee to “explore opportunities and challenges of developing technology-neutral metrics for closed captioning quality, with an eye toward facilitating objective comparisons between different captioning technologies, including automatic speech recognition, in terms of their ability to yield accuracy, completeness, synchronicity, and placement.”

Barusch gave a short speech towards the end of the meeting, reaffirming NCRA’s interest in this topic and commitment to assisting in the development of such metrics.

“Given the rise of ASR usage, especially in the broadcast captioning industry, this topic is particularly important for the DAC to consider,” Barusch said. “We have a number of concerns that this technology is not ready or able to meet the standards set by the FCC in 2014 and feel that it is being implemented to the detriment of consumers.”

Visit the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee page for more information.

FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee meeting announced

The Federal Communications Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee meets on October 3. NCRA’s Government Relations Manager Matthew Barusch; NCRA Board Member Steve Clark, CRC; and NCRA President Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, will attend this meeting and will raise the issue of Sinclair Broadcast Group using IBM Watson Captioning. If you are planning to attend this meeting in Washington, D.C., next week, please contact Matthew Barusch at mbarusch@ncra.org for important information!

Read more.

California Court Reporters Board votes to move forward to welcome voice writers

In light of a recent decision by the California Court Reporters Board (CRB) to pursue necessary steps to allow voice writers to practice in California as licensees, the California Court Reporters Association (CCRA) is including a session at its upcoming convention with a voice writer and official court reporter to help educate current members on how voice writing works. The CRB anticipates that voice writers could be qualified for the CSR exam as early as March 2019.

Read more or watch the entire September 17, 2018, CRB meeting video provided by the Court Reporters Board of California.

Our entire community working together

By Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC

NCRA President Sue Terry

The Sinclair Broadcast Group has announced that it will begin using IBM Watson Captioning, a form of automatic speech recognition, for their local television news stations. NCRA feels strongly that this decision is not in the best interests of the end consumer, and we are working diligently to do all we can to protect consumers and educate broadcasters as to the importance of quality captioning provided by a stenographic captioner.

This decision has alarmed everyone in our profession, but it is also serving as a catalyst to bring our association of professionals together to assist our deaf and hard-of-hearing community. This isn’t just about captioners and the effect that such a decision has on our work. Court reporters and captioners are not resistant to using technology to improve our lives; in fact, we are on the cutting edge of technology and are using the best platforms available to efficiently provide accurate court records and captions.

This decision is about the consumers: the millions of people in the United States who use captioning to absorb vital information, information that will now become garbled, untimely, lacking speaker designations, and often unintelligible, in addition to omitting sound effects, laughter, and music. While automatic speech recognition is evolving, it cannot match the expertise and skill of a trained and certified captioner. The deaf and hard-of-hearing community should have nothing less than full participation in programming. Using automation to disseminate vital information to millions of Americans who rely on accuracy in captioning is not only irresponsible, in our opinion, but potentially dangerous to the end users of our product: quality captioning.

NCRA’s Government Relations Department Manager, Matthew Barusch, is working with our NCRA Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee to handle this new development. On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, we have full confidence in their work to address this, but we still need your help. Sign our petition urging Sinclair to change course. If you are in an area with a local Sinclair television news station that has transitioned to IBM Watson, watch the news and closely critique the captions. Enlist the help of your friends and family in doing the same. If you see the captioning is inaccurate, register your formal complaint with the FCC. With your help and our entire community working together, we can make a difference.

Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, is NCRA’s 2018-2019 President. She can be reached at president@ncra.org.

 

Statement from the NCRA CEO: Sinclair Broadcast Group

By Marcia Ferranto

NCRA exists to represent, protect, and advocate for the stenographic professions of court reporting and captioning. Here at NCRA, everything we do, everything we fight for, and the very reason we fight are founded by the core belief that stenography is the most effective and efficient means of capturing the spoken word, the best way of providing speech-to-text services in any forum, and the only way to satisfy the needs and protect the integrity of the institutions and consumers who rely on it. This belief has been borne out by the facts time and time again: Stenographic court reporting and captioning is faster, more accurate, and more dependable than artificial intelligence-based alternatives and other alternatives solely based on technology, and, in addition, it is largely preferred by the consumers of these services. Stenographic court reporting is the backbone of the American court system, and stenographic captioning is an invaluable accessibility service to people who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

Recently, Sinclair Broadcast Group has made public their decision to abandon the use of stenographic captions in favor of the cost-cutting measure of implementing the automatic speech recognition (ASR) platform using IBM Watson. This decision is likely to impact hundreds of local news stations and affect millions of captioning consumers and providers. In a message to the public, IBM claims that Watson makes live programming “more accessible to local viewers, including the Deaf community, senior citizens, and anyone experiencing hearing loss.” We strongly disagree with the decision to abandon the human element of captioning in favor of automation, which invariably produces subpar captioning and will negatively affect accessibility to local news for millions of Americans.

NCRA’s Government Relations Department and Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee, our own member-formed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) watchdog, are working hard to address this issue, to register our concerns with the FCC, and to implore them to uphold important captioning quality standards in light of this new transition to ASR captioning.

But the FCC needs to hear from you, too!

  1. Complain online here about subpar captions.
  2. Sign our petition and tell Sinclair you want live captioners.
  3. If you have evidence of captioning failures, photos or videos of terrible captioning, we want to see it. You can send them to Matt Barusch, NCRA’s Government Relations Manager.

With your help, together we can ensure that live programming utilizes the best captioning that can be offered: Captioning by a live, trained, and certified captioner.

Marcia Ferranto is CEO and Executive Director of the National Court Reporters Association. 

NCRA Committee addresses use of automatic speech recognition captioning

A new NCRA committee, the Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee, has recently been formed. Its charge is to monitor the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) actions and other actions that affect the closed captioning industry and to respond accordingly.  The committee met on Sept. 4, 2018, to address the automatic speech recognition (ASR) issue.

ASR has already infiltrated some local TV news markets.  Some of you may have heard that an entire station group plans to transition to an ASR system in the near future. The committee members don’t know yet how the deaf advocacy groups or the FCC will respond. The deaf advocacy groups have been made aware of the coming switch to ASR, and NCRA is sure they will keep a close eye on it and respond accordingly. The FCC’s stance on ASR-generated closed captioning is that, like any captioning, it must meet FCC accuracy requirements.

In the Committee’s observations thus far, if the conditions in the newscast are perfect — reasonable speed, people not talking over each other, routine news subject matter/terminology, lack of background noise, no singing, etc. — ASR captions can be good; but if there is background noise, singing, chanting, a fast-paced program with people speaking over each other, difficult terminology, etc., the captions can be unusable. In addition, ASR systems display erratic punctuation. One must watch a variety of programs for more than just a few minutes to observe the varied results of ASR. They can be all over the board.  About the only plus for ASR is it is verbatim — when it hears and correctly interprets what is being said.

The emergence of ASR obviously makes us feel uneasy. The best actions you can take are as follows: if you see subpar captions, automated or otherwise, notify the station and complain to the FCC. NCRA offers a set of instructions; be sure to include the station, program, time, and specific examples.

Please rest assured that NCRA is closely monitoring the ASR issue.  Please keep in mind that our best defense is for you to continue to produce top-quality captions for our viewers and to provide clients with excellent customer service. Don’t forget: No ASR system comes close to providing consistently accurate captions at the level that a human captioner can.

The Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee invites questions about this Committee and its status. Questions can be directed to mbarusch@ncra.org.