Closed captioning displays the audio portion of a television program as text on the TV screen, providing a critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Congress requires video programming distributors (VPDs) - cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multi-channel video programming distributors - to close caption their TV programs. 

FCC closed captioning rules

FCC rules for TV closed captioning ensure that viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing have full access to programming, address captioning quality and provide guidance to video programming distributors and programmers. The rules apply to all television programming with captions, requiring that captions be:

  • Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible.
  • Synchronous: Captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible and must be displayed on the screen at a speed that can be read by viewers.
  • Complete: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
  • Properly placed: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another or run off the edge of the video screen.

The rules distinguish between pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming and explain how the standards apply to each type of programming, recognizing the greater hurdles involved with captioning live and near-live programming.

(The FCC does not regulate captioning of home videos, DVDs or video games.)

Exempt programming

Currently there are two categories of exemptions from the closed captioning rules, self-implementing and economically burdensome:

  • Self-implementing exemptions include public service announcements shorter than 10 minutes and not paid for with federal dollars, programming shown from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., and programming primarily textual. There is also an exemption for locally produced non-news programming with no repeat value. See a complete list of self-implementing exemptions.
  • The FCC has established procedures for petitioning for an exemption from the closed captioning rules when compliance would be economically burdensome. Find out about the economically burdensome exemption.

What if you experience closed captioning problems 

You may contact your VPD to report the problem at the time that the problem occurs to see if you can get the problem fixed. You can find your VPD's contact information on your bill, or, if you have broadcast only TV, the contact information for the TV station should be in the phone directory. Also, you can search the FCC's VPD Registry. VPDs must provide the FCC with contact information for the receipt and handling of immediate closed captioning concerns by consumers, and contact information for written closed captioning complaints. For more information, check the FCC's closed captioning website.

For captioning problems during non-emergency programming, you may file a written complaint with either the FCC or your VPD. If you file your complaint with the FCC, the FCC will forward the complaint to your VPD. FCC rules require that your written complaint must be filed within 60 days of the captioning problem. After receiving a complaint, either directly from you or from the FCC, the VPD has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If you filed your complaint with your VPD and they do not respond within 30 days, or if a dispute remains, you can send your complaint to the FCC.

Print Out

Closed Captioning Guide (pdf)


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Date Last Updated/Reviewed: 
Tuesday, October 25, 2016