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Higgins lauds FCC proposal to scuttle blackout regulations

by jmaloni


Fri, Nov 1st 2013 08:35 pm

Congressman calls on leagues and networks to "do the right thing for the fans"

Congressman Brian Higgins cheered a proposal announced by the Federal Communications Commission chair to eliminate federal regulations that support sports blackouts.

"Blackout rules are unfair, outdated and alienate dedicated fans," Higgins said. "I support the FCC chairwoman's proposal to eliminate federal policies that defend and allow blackouts. We will be asking the full FCC board to follow through with this recommendation, and the leagues and teams to embrace the change as a way to reach a larger audience and do the right thing for their fans."

The NFL has a policy of blacking out games that are not sold out to the home market. A 1961 federal law requires broadcasters (networks) to abide by the league's blackout policy. On Jan. 12, 2012, the FCC opened up a public comment period on a long-time FCC rule that requires cable or satellite providers to honor the blackout rule if it applies to the local affiliate it carries.

Higgins has been a vocal advocate of eliminating the blackout policy:

•In August of this year, he sent a letter to the FCC pushing it to make a ruling on the sports blackout rule.

•In January 2012, Higgins submitted a formal comment to the FCC and also urged Western New Yorkers to participate in the public comment period.

•In February 2012, Higgins led several of his congressional colleagues in sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking for the league to end its policy of game blackouts in home team media markets.

Along with local fan groups, Higgins has pushed for a change to the blackout policy, citing fairness issues related to stadium and media market size, and also noting the significant community support of football stadiums through local tax dollars. Higgins' Western New York community is home to the Buffalo Bills.

Last year, the NFL owners passed a resolution allowing teams to decide to broadcast games locally when more than 85 percent of the seats are filled, but not all teams opted into this policy.

The FCC released the following statement today:

"Today, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the commission's nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules," said Mignon L. Clyburn, acting chairwoman. "Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games. Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.

"Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the commission's involvement in this area should end."

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