September 9, 2014 - 1:38 pm
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

Since becoming Chairman, I’ve spoken often about the importance of reviewing the FCC’s rules and processes, and eliminating or modernizing outdated practices that no longer make sense. There is no better example of an FCC rule that has outlived its usefulness and deserves to be eliminated than our sports blackout rule.

In 1975, the Commission enacted rules barring cable from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out – strengthening the NFL’s blackout policy. Today, the rules make no sense at all.   

The sports blackout rules are a bad hangover from the days when barely 40 percent of games sold out and gate receipts were the league’s principal source of revenue.  Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television. NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out.

Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable. And we at the FCC shouldn’t be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It’s time to sack the sports blackout rule.

That’s why today, I am sending to my fellow commissioners a proposal to get rid of the FCC’s blackout rule once and for all. It fulfills a commitment I made in June. We will vote on the proposal at the Commission’s open meeting on September 30. 

The sports blackout rule isn’t the only FCC rule in line for an update at this month’s meeting. I have circulated a rulemaking proposal that would streamline, eliminate and clarify numerous provisions of the Commission’s Part 25 rules governing the licensing and operation of space and earth stations providing satellite communications. These proposed changes would go a long way in making the regulatory approval process for satellite licenses easier and more efficient. 

Many of the proposals in this Further Notice derive from recommendations made in the Report on FCC Process Reform. These recommendations were developed after receiving significant stakeholder input. These proposed rule changes would ultimately benefit the American consumer by increasing the speed and ease of introducing new satellite services, while promoting competition among service providers. 

Among other things, the rulemaking notice would facilitate international coordination of satellite networks and afford licensees more operational flexibility. For example, proposed revised milestone requirements would simplify space station licensing while ensuring scarce orbital slots are only made available to those entities that are truly prepared to build and operate satellites in them.

This is a key part of the Commission’s process reform effort, making things easier for the market by becoming more flexible in our processes.

Of course, the Commission is not just reviewing and updating old policies. We are also pioneering new ones.

We continue to make steady progress toward implementing the first-ever incentive auction.  Since our incentive auction Report and Order was adopted in May, FCC staff has completed work on several significant proposals for Commission consideration as promised in that item. These proposals address critical implementation issues related to the incentive auction and are of importance to multiple stakeholders. Two of those items are now tap for the September Open Meeting.

One item proposes changes to our Part 15 rules to allow for more robust unlicensed service and efficient spectral use while protecting licensed users from harmful interference. These recommendations fulfill our objective to extend opportunities for innovative unlicensed use in the 600 MHz band, while preventing harmful interference to licensed services.

Recognizing that there will be less spectrum in the remaining broadcast band for wireless microphones after the auction, the other item  explores how best to address the needs of wireless microphone users over the long term while advancing the Commission’s broader spectrum management goals.

All of the items on this month’s agenda reflect a commitment to make sure the FCC’s policies are keeping pace with changes in the communications marketplace and maximizing consumer benefits for the future.