New Legislation May Open The Door For FCC Regulatory Power Over Internet Content

from the not-a-good-thing dept

We're all for making content better accessible for the disabled -- but we ought to be careful when it comes to mandating it and potentially opening up internet content to the regulatory control of the FCC. A new bit of legislation being introduced by Rep. Ed Markey would (among other things) give the FCC regulatory power to mandate that internet video providers provide captions and a "video description" for the disabled. Basically, it would require "closed captioning" services for "major" video providers. On the face of it, this sounds well-meaning, but it's troublesome to suddenly give the FCC any sort of regulatory say over internet videos. The FCC's mandate is supposed to be over scarce spectrum -- which is (or is supposed to be) managed as a public good. It's not supposed to have regulatory power over much beyond that -- though, obviously, things have changed over the years.

Giving regulatory power over internet video, even for a seemingly "good cause," opens up all sorts of questions -- both legal and technical. Most worrisome, though, is conceptually, that this would open the door to making internet content open to government regulation. While there have been many attempts to regulate the internet over the years, for the most part, the government has seen fit to keep its hands out of regulating most internet content. Opening up internet video to certain requirements is a troublesome "nose in the tent" sort of situation. Rep. Markey, of course, is also well known for his proposed net neutrality bill -- and it's for the very same reason that I'm skeptical of legislating net neutrality. I'm a huge supporter of the concept of net neutrality -- and I believe strongly in exposing any provider who breaks neutrality. But once you open the door to the government regulating the internet, they're only going to regulate more and more and more. And, if you don't think that process won't be abused by entrenched interests, you haven't been paying attention to our legal system lately. Good intentioned laws for the internet will almost certainly have bad unintended consequences.
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Filed Under: closed captioning, disability, ed markey, internet video, regulation

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    James, 11 Jun 2008 @ 3:49pm

    A show of hands for...

    ..the number of people who have benefited from more laws and stricter regulations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Haywood, 11 Jun 2008 @ 4:19pm

    Even if; just the captions

    It would suck. I hate captions & on a screen the size of a You-tube video it would take up 1/3 of the screen. You can usually blow them up full screen, but the quality is normally so poor you will wish you hadn't. Thank God I've got my hearing, but I'd like to think if I didn't I'd be bigger than to kill it for everyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Just another anon, 11 Jun 2008 @ 4:36pm

    Yep - here we go

    This might have made sense in the days of limited broadcast media when you could count the number of tv channels available in your area on one hand. The www consists of millions of sites.

    I agree that this looks like the foot in the door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2008 @ 4:38pm

    We all know....

    That there are no deaf people on the internet.

    Also, I strongly dislike the FCC.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2008 @ 4:48pm

    Just wait until they try to enforce it on content providers outside the US, since a good number of them are.

    Besides, if the legislation gets too expensive to comply with the companies will simply move to a country with friendlier legislation. Just like many companies have done to avoid taxes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Rick, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:13pm


    What about "minority" disabled groups that would need that closed captioning in... well, other languages besides English?

    I don't think they really put any thought into it, and it wont pass.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Nobody, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:21pm

    Just can't be done

    How stupid are these politicians?

    How can anyone expect a US Government Agency to have any ability to regulate anything on a World Wide system?

    What are they going to do about sites that are from other countries? What about sites which are simply hosted by other countries? How about videos that are from other countries, but hosted in the US?

    You simply cannot enforce a US law on anyone outside the US.

    A complete waste of time, energy and tax-payer dollars every single time they try to do this stupid stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:26pm

    What about the blind?

    Microsoft offers options in windows for that. What about the Internet?

    I want to see the FCC push CC on Youtube. "Don't light that on fire... Oh shi, is that the cops?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Business Opportunity, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:27pm

    Good time for an all captioned video site for the deaf. Enforcing all videos be captioned is ridiculous and time intensive., not to mention added bandwidth from captions along with bulkier videos.

    One size does not fit all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Verno, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:46pm

    Why the FCC, and no innovation

    The FCC just wants regulatory control to basically turn the internet into a "cable tv" like medium. Cant wait to pay 20.00 a month just to visit Google and

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Verno, 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:46pm

    Re: Agree

    Innovation, not regulation

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jake, 11 Jun 2008 @ 6:01pm

    Re: A show of hands for...

    Everyone working in menial jobs after the introduction of the national minimum wage, everyone who's ever needed to use a fire escape and probably legions more I haven't thought of?
    Anyway, moving swiftly on...
    I think there is a need for some mandatory accessibility standards, but this proposed legislation seems somewhat inflexible; there's undoubtedly content out there for which audio description isn't feasible, and why mandate subtitling over a sign-language translation? It seems to me that the best approach would be to insist on 'reasonable adjustments', nothing more specific than that, and let each individual content provider figure out how much they can actually do to make their service usable to the disabled and what the best way to do it would be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    chalkboy, 11 Jun 2008 @ 7:32pm

    Dumb but possible

    Legislation won't work but it might make for a booming business for me. We just released an automatic video transcription service so one guys problems is.... (link above to see details)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    reed, 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:04pm

    Protect the deaf!

    Sounds like that anti-electric car legislation that was meant to protect the "blind".

    It is baby steps like these that have allowed the ruling class to get their hooks into every facet of our lives.

    A great example is the supposed "public" airwaves which are now nothing more than a pawn in a game of corporate feudalism.

    As the concept of public property fades into the sunset we must ask ourselves if we are willing to trade community for commercialism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Charles White - Dallas, 11 Jun 2008 @ 11:19pm

    Pretty soon, your screen will have to have tactile screens (Braille bumps) so the blind will be able to feel those titties on the screen... And for the deaf, they will be able to read..moan moan moan.
    Seriously though, this is certainly a possibility and can easily be made an OPTION for users to turn on rather than some mandatory one solutions meets all requirements type of thing. So everyone take a chill pill because it's not the end of the world. By the way, Apple filed for a patent for tactile touch screens last year I think...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    mike allen, 11 Jun 2008 @ 11:28pm

    I HATE

    when they sow a film and have someone doing sign langauge for the deaf they block the picture and distract. you sould be able to turn it off. same for subtitles. you tube will look er crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    fastfinge, 12 Jun 2008 @ 6:38am

    As A Blind User...

    When someone sends me a youtube link that looks like it needs description (99.99% of the youtube links I get don't need it in the first place; they were usually sent as a quick and dirty way to share a song or because some nutcase ranting about Britney is amusing) I ask them to stick a description of the clip in the comments with the keywords "blind" or "description for blind viewers" or similar. Then I (and any other blind user) can go read it over with our screen reader. It would seem that most subtitle formats are simple enough that captions could also be stuck in the comments of the clip, with perhaps a firefox extension to pull them out and overlay them somehow. We don't need the government to do this. It would be nice if google would create a special wiki-like page for captions and descriptions that anyone could edit and contribute to, making them easier to find, but it would just be _nice_; we don't even need that. It's quick to search the comments.

    The only place where regulation *might* be justified is for purchased movies and tv shows from, for example, the itunes store. A regulation that says that itunes must provide the option of having description and/or captions on items purchased from the itunes store where those items were originally shown on TV with captions and/or descriptions would, in my opinion, be a good idea. Quicktime already supports captions and description (I've made online movies with both...long story), and if the extras are an option, those who don't need them can have a smaller download. Apple wouldn't have to describe movies or anything, because the regulation would only apply to movies that had already been captioned or described for TV.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    James, 12 Jun 2008 @ 11:07am

    What about people who are illiterate? All Web pages should be forced to have a multi language PodCast of the text on a web site.

    Also, I'm fat and can't go on hikes to some scenic views. All trails in public parks should have escalators installed.

    Or maybe getting the government involved to make every single facet of life "fair" isn't a good idea after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    r. decline, 12 Jun 2008 @ 12:19pm


    f*ck the fcc
    micro-power to the people
    radio is my bomb
    reclaim your airwaves

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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