FCC commissioner: End sports blackout rules

A Republican on the Federal Communications Commission is pressuring the agency to scrap rules that keep sporting events off television.

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During a speech in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai called on the agency to hold a vote to remove the rules, which keep cable and satellite companies from airing games if those games are blacked out on local broadcast stations.

The FCC voted unanimously late last year to consider removing the rules.

“I hope my fellow FCC Commissioners will join me in voting to eliminate” the sports blackout rule, he said.

Pai railed against the rules, which largely affect football fans; the National Football League requires local broadcasters to black out games with a certain number of unsold seats.

“The FCC shouldn’t get involved in handing out special favors or picking winners and losers,” he said. 

“And in my view, there is no reason for the FCC to be involved in the sports blackout business. ... Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners.”

Lawmakers have been increasingly pressuring the FCC to remove its rules.

Frustrated with a lack of movement since the FCC vote in December, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in June asking him to schedule a vote to remove the rules.

Wheeler responded by saying that he has asked staff on the agency’s Media Bureau to provide recommendations so the agency can move forward “by early fall.”

McCain and Blumenthal, as well as Buffalo-based Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), introduced legislation that would eliminate the FCC’s rules and force sports leagues like the NFL to change blackout policies to continue benefiting from current antitrust exemptions.

During his remarks Thursday, Pai thanked Higgins for his work on the sports blackout rules, calling him “a champion for sports fans in Buffalo and all across our nation.”