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Senators push FCC to act on the Sports Blackout Rule

Mignon Clyburn may only be temporary chairman of the FCC, but the heat is on her to act now on the Sports Blackout Rule. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) say the time has passed for the FCC to lift the controversial rule and that Clyburn should act now.

The Sports Blackout rule prohibits cable or satellite providers from broadcasting an NFL football game when the over-the-air broadcast is blacked out due to lack of attendance at the game.

Changes in the marketplace have made many question whether the rule is still necessary. More than a year ago, the Sports Fan Coalition asked the FCC to lift the rule.

“It would be a pro-fan, pro-consumer, deregulatory action serving the public interest by expanding the availability of sports to the public without adding any regulatory compliance costs to the private sector,” the group told the FCC at the time.

Yet, the FCC has still not acted on the issue. Last week, at his confirmation hearing to be the new FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler was asked a question about the rule by congressman Blumenthal. Wheeler conceded the issue is ripe for action given changes in the marketplace.

This prompted McCain and Blumenthal to push for the change now, rather than waiting for Wheeler to take charge at the FCC.

“It has been over a year since the Commission initiated this docket as a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) to determine whether the rule remains in the public interest,” the senators wrote to Clyburn. “The record includes thousands of comments from concerned sports fans around the nation; detailed legal arguments by non-profit public interest groups, professional sports leagues, and industry associations; and a white paper submitted by nine sports economists. With so much detailed information on the record from such a wide range of stakeholders, it is time for the Commission to take the next logical step and move to a NPRM.”

The senators noted that Congress never instructed the FCC to institute the Sports Blackout Rule in the first place.

“The Commission, therefore, possesses ample authority to amend the Sports Blackout Rule sua sponte, without any action by Congress,” they wrote. “In light of this, we not only urge you to move this proceeding to the NPRM phase but request that such NPRM seek comment on what would serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.”