Pluto and ViacomCBS Fined $3.5M by FCC for Violation of IP Closed Captioning Rules

On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) settled charges with Pluto Inc., provider of streaming service Pluto TV, and its parent company, ViacomCBS Inc., over violations that rendered individuals with hearing disabilities unable to access closed captioning on Pluto TV. The action follows an FCC Enforcement Bureau investigation and reflects the first resolution of an Internet Protocol (IP) closed captioning rules violation since their adoption in 2012, according to the agency’s press release.

The FCC explains that the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) aims to promote equal access for individuals with disabilities so they can fully utilize communications services and equipment and access video programming. Implicit in the law is the recognition that the internet has become a primary distribution hub of video programming. As such, the FCC’s implementing rules reportedly require that all “‘nonexempt full-length video programming delivered using Internet Protocol must be provided with closed captions if the programming is published or exhibited on television in the United States with captions.’” 

Concerning the instant case, the Enforcement Bureau’s investigation confirmed that Pluto failed to provide IP closed captioning when distributing video programming on various platforms used to disseminate Pluto TV. The investigation also revealed that the company failed to institute closed captioning “functionality requirements” and make contact information available to users who wished to submit closed captioning-related complaints. According to the consent decree, and in addition to the $3.5 million civil penalty, Pluto agreed to effectuate a compliance plan.