I caught up with folks at Mass Access this last week to chat about closed captioning rules for PEG channels – so I thought it’s a good opportunity to give you a quick refresher: 

- The FCC’s captioning rules say that all video programs and channels must be captioned unless they qualify for a number of exemptions. Most PEG channels fall under several of those exemptions (they are listed here). 

- ACM has petitioned the FCC to clarify how their proposed registration process for channels and programs in their 2016 Order on captioning affect PEG channels and PEG producers.  As of this date, the FCC has not acted on the petition, and there is no registration process or captioning registry. This may change with a new Administration in 2021.

- While you may be exempt from FCC rules, you are not exempt from the American’s with Disability Act, which has a standard that says that non-profits, governments and other institutions have an obligation to effectively communicate with people with disabilities.  The Justice Department outlines the standards here

- While local governments and non-profits may claim that captioning is too costly, they have an obligation to actually research costs of implementing services in the community.  This means at the LEAST doing an evaluation of the cost of captioning programming.  Local governments have a higher obligation and must gauge the cost of providing service against their means – meaning within the context of their entire budgets.   

- Captioning is now a standard item that appears in Federal audits of disability service compliance to which local government must submit. However, ADA provides that individuals can also sue for remedies under the Act.

ACM’s suggestion to all PEG channels for the last five years have been to assess what captioning actually costs, and prepare for a plan to extend services to all people in your service area – and seek legal advice to ensure your plan meets ADA requirements.  The good news in 2020 is that the cost and quality of automated captioning has radically changed in the last few years and found to be cheaper and higher in accuracy. More and more channels are extending their service to people who need you but have disabilities.    

If you have questions, I’m happy to talk with you and other folks in your community. Drop me an email at



 Speaking of the FCC, the Commission may soon be opening an application window for Non-Commercial and Educational Radio licenses.  A host of our members have applied for low-power licenses in the past ten years to extend their service to the community as a whole – and this window presents another “once in a decade” opportunity.

Luckily our friends at the National Federal of Community Broadcasters are hosting a webinar this week to talk about the application window – if you’re interested, please sign up here


We’ve just wrapped up the 2020 Emerging Leaders Institute – my thanks go out to the twenty-two people who attended the pasts three weeks from across the country and to Paula Manley and Toni Tabora-Roberts for hosting this year’s virtual Institute.  Because we were virtual, we were able to expand and diversify this year’s class – and lower the price of attendance!  

The ACM Foundation plans to continue its leadership development work in 2021 – we’ll have details in the weeks to come!  


If you missed the Drive In theatre premiere of this year's Crowdsource Cinema project "Cast Away" that I talked about last week - our friends at the Media Factory in Burlington have posted it online here. 


Mike Wassenaar
President & CEO
The Alliance for Community Media