The Communicators: Reps Work to End Blackout Rules, Title II Push

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The FCC is scheduled to vote at the end of this year to end the sports blackout rule, which professional sports leagues like the NFL strongly oppose. Rep Brian Higgins (D-NY) is hoping the league will voluntarily follow suit, he said as one of 3 Reps featured during C-SPAN ’s “The Communicators” program over the weekend. The lawmaker launched the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports Act (FANS Act), which is backed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ). “The blackout rule is obsolete, it doesn’t serve a purpose anymore,” Higgins said. “The economics of this will drive the issue and the NFL will realize it’s in their economic best interest to do away with it altogether.” The Rep is also sponsoring a legislation that would eliminate the NFL’s antitrust exemption for blackouts. Getting rid of the blackout rules is a matter of “when,” not “if,” Higgins said. “I think the league will come along to support this.” Consumer groups have supported the FCC’s effort to kill the rule, which prohibits pay-TV providers from airing game even if a local broadcaster can’t because the home stadium didn’t sell out. But the NFL argues that the rules help prevent owners from moving games off of free over-the-air broadcasts and onto cable nets. There have been around 1K comments filed with the FCC on the issue. Rep Cory Gardner (R-CO), member of the House tech subcmte, is also working on getting access to TV programming for some viewers in CO who receive New Mexico TV news rather than Denver because of Nielsen TV market designations. The designation is also preventing those viewers from watching Denver Broncos broadcasts. In addition to a potential legislative fix, “we are looking at the private market… [to] see if there is a technological fix,” the Rep said. Calling the recent Supreme Court ruling against Aereo “fascinating,” he said the decision is “a sign of things to come” and predicted more conflicts and legal battles that will end up in the Supreme Court because the Communications Act hasn’t been updated for decades. Speaking of Aereo, the company’s request for an emergency broadcast retrans license was denied by NY District Court Fri. The move came after the US Copyright Office ’s decision to turn down Aereo’s request for a compulsory license. The company’s main backer Barry Diller’s IAC Corp recently recorded a write-down on investments in companies including Aereo. Meanwhile, Rep Bob Latta (R-OH), vice chair of the House tech subcmte, said several Republican members on the panel are concerned about the direction FCC chmn Tom Wheeler is going on a number of issues. “It’s more government, more regulation… We don’t want this… government control coming down on our telecom or Internet services,” he said. In particular, a potential Title II move would slow all broadband innovation. “We want to make sure it remains free, it stays open and it stays away from government control,” he said. Latta has introduced a bill that would limit the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband services under Title II.

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