Senators: End sports blackout rule in 60 days

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Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are pressuring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to go forward with its plans to take the agency’s long-standing sports blackout rule off the books.

“The rule unfairly harms consumers by insulating the NFL from market realities and punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations,” the pair said in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

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The FCC should build off its previous work to eliminate the sports blackout rule and have a vote to do away with it once and for all in the next 60 days, the senators — who have long called for the rule to be taken off the books — wrote.

In December, the FCC voted unanimously to consider a proposal to get rid of the 1975 rule, which keeps cable and satellite companies from broadcasting sporting events nationwide if the game is blacked out where it is being played due to low attendance.

The rule has been especially relevant to football fans, as the NFL requires local broadcast stations to black out the game when stadium attendance thresholds are not met as a way to encourage fans to buy tickets to games.

The agency’s elimination of its blackout rule will not keep sports leagues from negotiating individually with broadcasters and cable and satellite companies to black out the games.

The FCC’s December vote began a process through which the agency collected public comments on its attempt to eliminate the rule.

“Now that the comment deadline has long passed, we urge the Commission to move forward expeditiously on eliminating the sports blackout rule,” McCain and Blumenthal wrote.

The senators pointed to comments filed at the FCC by “consumers, economists, academics, professional sports leagues, broadcasters, cable operators, satellite TV providers and Internet Service Providers.”

“The Commission has collected the facts and has a rich public record upon which to base a decision,” the letter said.

“Now it must act.”