Does the FCC’s Sack of the NFL Blackout Ruling Bode Well for Net Neutrality?
Autumn is a time of change and tradition, and perhaps one of the most well-known is the return of football season. Previously, the broadcasting of local NFL games was restricted by the blackout rule, but a recent revocation of the rule could change everything. Whether you are a football fan or not, this decision to revoke the blackout rule could affect future decisions made by the FCC.
In a ruling this October, the FCC voted unanimously to get rid of the NFL blackout ruling put in place over 40 years ago. The rule stated that local television broadcasts could not show NFL games if their local team hadn’t sold out their tickets 72 hours prior to the start of the game. While this doesn’t affect most football fans (NFL games are almost always sold out), it’s an important decision that could potentially set precedence for later decisions that the FCC makes concerning important topics, notably net neutrality laws.
While local networks can now broadcast NFL games on paper, the NFL still has contracts which require the blacking out of games if a team doesn’t sell out. These contracts run until 2022, and they cannot be broken. Additionally, the league can still establish private contracts with local broadcasts which prohibit the screening of games. Yet, they can still be broadcasted over cable or satellite operators. The previous blackout rulings were decreed invalid and outdated by the FCC. According to USAToday:
In the early 1970s, NFL teams relied primarily on ticket sales to generate revenue and the rule was implemented to encourage fans to attend games. But the league has diversified its revenue base by reaping billions in advertising and programming licensing fees from networks.
Despite this ruling by the FCC targeting the NFL, the fact remains that this decision eliminated a rule which restricted the viewership of content. One of the biggest concerns in the future, especially in light of the controversial proposed Time Warner Cable/Comcast merger, is that the old net neutrality laws were scrapped. These were supposed to protect the rights of unrestricted access to the wealth of information (among other things) on the Internet. Without net neutrality laws put into place, Time Warner Cable and Comcast could enact furious retribution by limiting access to services like Netflix and Hulu, among others, and enact fees for unrestricted access to web-based services. In other words, both businesses and consumers alike will suffer for this.
By shooting down the NFL blackout rule, the FCC might be giving the public a glimmer of hope in the fight against pseudo-illegal Internet censorship. What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you been a victim of an NFL blackout in the past? Let us know in the comments.