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Sens. Ask Clyburn to Issue NPRM on Sports Blackout Rule

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) aren't waiting around for a new FCC chair to push the FCC to act on a longstanding petition to lift its sports blackout rule.

In a letter to acting FCC chair Mignon Clyburn, the senators said it was past time to act.

The rule prevents cable or satellite providers from carrying an NFL game when the over-the-air broadcast is blacked out due to lack of attendance at the game. In October 2011, the Sports Fan Coalition asked the FCC to lift the ban, saying 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."

At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the nomination of Tom Wheeler to become the new FCC chair, Blumenthal pressed the nominee on the issue and Wheeler suggested it was ripe for action given changes in the marketplace. But the senators aren't waiting for him to take the big chair.

"Senators Blumenthal and McCain are friends of the fans. The FCC should heed their bipartisan call for a rule making," David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition, told B&C/Multi. "The FCC has the ability to do something about blackouts. It should act."

Below is text of the letter:

Dear Acting Chairwoman Clyburn:

The Federal Communications Commission ("Commission") should move to a Notice of Public [SIC] Rulemaking ("NPRM") regarding the so-called Sports Blackout Rule. 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 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.

Commenters have put forth a wide range of proposals, from maintaining the Sports Blackout Rule in its current form, to establishing a sunset and renewal process, to eliminating the rule altogether.

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.

While Congress can effect change on this issue, the record in this proceeding demonstrates that legislation is not the only way to address this issue. It is important to note that Congress never instructed the Commission to promulgate 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. 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.

As such, we respectfully ask that you move to a NPRM regarding the so-called Sports Blackout Rule and utilize your existing authorities.