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FCC commissioner voices opposition to sports blackout policy

Ashley Hirtzel

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says he’s opposed to the FCC’s sports blackout rule. Pai made the announcement alongside Congressman Brian Higgins in Buffalo Tuesday.

There are two policies currently in place. The FCC rule prevents cable and satellite companies from showing games in a local markets, when NFL stadiums are not 85% sold out. The NFL has a similar policy in for blacking out games on local broadcast stations.

If the rule is eliminated, the NFL would still be allowed to have contracts that require games blackouts on basic television if a game is not sold out and paid providers wouldn't be under any FCC regulation to comply. Pai says he can’t promise that screens won’t be blacked out, but he says that’s not a reason to keep the rule on the books.

“Right now the FCC is officially on the side of blackouts. We should be on side of sports fans. I want the FCC to help fans watch the stars of tomorrow. The next Andre Reed who as you know was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who has recently spoken up for Buffalo of late, the next Thurman Thomas who made it to five straight Pro Bowls, and the next Jim Kelly whose brave battle against cancer inspires us everyday more than his game field heroics,” said Pai.

Pai says he would hope that the NFL would recognize that a fan friendly approach is the way to go.

“By in large over the air free broadcasting has been terrific for the NFL and for its fans. [The fans] who are on fixed income, who can’t necessarily afford a cable subscription or satellite subscription. That free over the air service is a life line to Bills fans and other football fans across the country,” said Pai.

Pai says he believes pressure from football fans would push the NFL to revisit the policy. The FCC has spent the past year seeking public input regarding blackout regulations. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is the only one who is able to make a decision on the rule.