Captioning Corner: How to Complain About Bad or Missing Captions

With the change to high definition broadcasts in 2009 and changes to the Federal Communications Commission’s complaint procedure in early 2010, it is a good time to review the process for complaining about caption quality.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are many reasons that captions could come up garbled on a television. The issue could be a problem with reception by your television or your cable or satellite provider or it could be something from the broadcast. One thing to check is whether captions are garbled on just one channel or if it is on all of the channels. If it is all of your channels, make sure that the cables are connected securely to your television.

Keep in mind that captioners can’t control the signal from the time it leaves the captioner's studio and phone line to when it's received by the station, and then on to the distribution network.  Once it leaves the station, there are many, many places the signal can be degraded, causing good or great captions to turn into unreadable captions. For instance, a satellite signal that goes into a gym will get split up to be shown on a number of TVs; if the signal is degraded enough, the captions get degraded, too. Captioners have also said that weather can degrade their captions.

Before the FCC instituted new rules this year, caption viewers had to complain first to the broadcast station; now they can complain directly to the FCC first.

However, it is still a good idea to see if you can get the broadcaster or cable provider to fix the problem first. If you have cable, complain to your cable provider; if you do not have cable, complain directly to the channel with the problematic captions.  You can ask the person to check to see if there are any signal problems, which are sometimes the cause of caption malfunctions. (When you complain to the TV station, use the relay service in your area; this gets the point across that that the complainant has a hearing loss!)


If you complain to the FCC, be sure to include which shows were affected and describe the problem specifically — such as whether letters were missing or if it was completely unreadable. Send in the FCC’s online complaint form, or e-mail them at You can also fax your complaint to 866-418-0232 or send a written complaint to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

Your complaint must be made within 60 days of when you saw the bad or missing captions. The FCC will need to know the name of the television program, the station, video programming distributor, and the issue with the captions. (For instance, the FCC suggested some of the problems as being: no captions, missing captions, delayed captions, captions that are garbled, displayed too fast, or unreadable.) Also if you have complained to cable provider or to the channel and received no reply, it is good to include a copy of the original complaint that you sent to cable provider or channel when you contact the FCC.

The FCC will mail letters about the complaint to the person who complains and the TV station will be mailed letters stating what the complaints are, and FCC representatives will sometimes follow up to see if the complaint was satisfied.