The Federal Communications Commission has voted to move ahead with a proposal to eliminate a decades-old rule that prohibited broadcasting of some professional sports events, often NFL football games, in their home markets, an FCC spokesman said on Wednesday.
FCC commissioners have moved to begin collecting comments on the potential elimination of the nearly 40-year-old rule that was originally meant to ensure broadcasts of sports games did not hurt local ticket sales.
The sports blackout rules have faced mounting criticism in recent years that they are outdated. A group called the Sports Fans Coalition, which received backing from Verizon and Time Warner Cable, petitioned the FCC in 2011 to end the rules and received support from several consumer interest groups.
However, broadcasters have been an influential opponent of eliminating the FCC rules. They point out that the rules prevent cable and satellite providers from offering games that may be blacked out in local markets and that without such rules, the games would be available only to cable and satellite TV customers and not those relying on free TV.
The FCC will collect public comment and will evaluate whether the rules remain in the public interest - and could eventually take them off the books. Any action is not expected until sometime next year.
Professional sports leagues such as the National Football League, broadcasters and cable and satellite service providers could still privately negotiate blackout agreements.
It is often such private agreements, and not the commission's rules, that prompt home game blackouts, the FCC has said.
The FCC's rules under review are unrelated to some high-profile longer-lasting blackouts that are prompted by disagreements over the fees that TV operators pay programmers to carry their channels, such as the one this summer between CBS and Time Warner Cable.