There are two goals in this phase.
The main task of the Open & Closed Project is to write a set of standards for the actual practice of four accessibility fields – captioning, audio description, subtitling, and dubbing. There are no how-to manuals for those fields that were independently developed in an open process, tested to make sure they really work, and published for free or at low cost.
Everything that claims to be a standard really amounts to one broadcaster, or one service provider, or a group of those writing down its current practices. It all happens behind close doors and it isn’t tested, yet it is passed off as a “standard.”
That’s what happened in 2001 in Canada when a secret cabal of broadcasters got together to write down what they already do and pass it off as a standard. The result (PDF) was simply ignored by the marketplace. Only a couple of broadcasters ever claimed to meet the standard, and even those broadcasters interpreted the standard so differently that, when put together, the resulting captioning wasn’t standardized at all. Nearly every private company doing captioning ignored the standard.
And it only applied to English-language captioning in Canada, not anything else. Remember, deaf people aren’t more or less important than anybody else, and neither are Canadians. Standardization of accessibility is ia global issue.
But now the same broadcasters want to make the same mistakes all over again. In a strange twist of events, the Canadian broadcasting regulator, the CRTC, has essentially ordered the broadcasters’ lobby group to write a new standard. But the CRTC isn’t legally permitted to regulate that group. And that group represents private broadcasters only, yet the CRTC ordered it to include a public broadcaster, the CBC. And the group was also ordered to include a representative from a deaf group that is most recently known for writing an error-filled report on HDTV captioning partially paid for by the government.
If this seems like a recipe for failure, it is. Worse, all the parties involved, including the CRTC, knew perfectly well of the existence of the Open & Closed Project and of our plans to conduct independent standards development and testing. Instead of supporting us, the CRTC pretended it had the authority to order its friends in the broadcasting industry to take the same course of action that failed the last time. While the whole thing is a bad idea on objective grounds, it’s also a personal kick in the teeth for me.
So: The plan in this phase of activity is to conduct an extensive campaign, directed at the CRTC, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (the lobby group), the CBC, and the Canadian Association of the Deaf, to remind them that while they may wish to waste their time on this closed-door “standardization” process, they’re doing it at the expense of an independent and open process. And their results will simply be ignored anyway; they certainly were last time.
We’ll build a coalition in opposition to these closed-door shenanigans.
The goal is to discredit the closed-door process and any “standard” that might emerge from it and to rally support from organizations and clubs for our open standards.
(For reference, you may wish to look at the original order issued by the CRTC for the industry to write its own new captioning “standard.”)
The “standardization” boondoggle mentioned above isn’t the only one that’s going on.
In essence, if you and your friends are attempting to write a “standard” behind closed doors, expect us to get in your face.
We will, of course, publish all our correspondence in these matters. And all the responses.
In Canada and in other countries, broadcasting is regulated by government because the airwaves are scarce public property. Everybody owns the airwaves, and the range of available spectrum is fixed and limited.
But in the last decade, digital broadcasting technologies have expanded the available space for television channels and other broadcasting. The scarce public spectrum hasn’t been expanded; an entire new technology has been invented that can carry TV signals. All your digital-cable and satellite channels fall into this category, as do some high-definition channels. If you can’t receive the signal over the air and you absolutely must use cable or satellite, then that is the kind of signal being discussed here.
But those broadcasters aren’t using scarce public spectrum. In essence, these channels are creatures of MPEG. You can keep adding channels up to a very high limit without harming other channels or using the public airwaves. As such, this spectrum isn’t public property and it isn’t in short supply. From a free-market standpoint, why are we regulating it?
The Open & Closed Project will make a radical new proposal for broadcast deregulation in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, Australia, and other democracies.
The value proposition for broadcasters is simple: Nothing will really change for your public-spectrum channels, except a minor tightening here and there. On your digital channels, anything goes as long as it’s legal. But in return for this licence to print money, you have to make the whole system accessible, and you can’t do that by using the cheapest and least-competent suppliers, or the “standards” written by your own friends.
Of course this is nakedly a ploy for funding for the Open & Closed Project. But we think we have an airtight case, especially when you consider that the same democracies that regulate their public airwaves also guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. In this scenario, we make both of those things real. We regulate the public airwaves and only those. We guarantee the rights of disabled people by making the entire system accessible. And we’re talking good-quality accessibility, not the cheap stuff.
If you’re a broadcaster and you like the idea but you think it will take too long for us to write and test our standards and train practitioners, well, double our funding and we can double our speed.
The zeitgeist seems ready for such a plan. A study commissioned by the Canadian broadcast authority, the CRTC, calls for considerable deregulation. We’re just trying to be logically consistent.
We’ll also be unveiling a surprise new Web site.