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FCC urged to end sports blackout rule for NFL football contests
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Most people weighing in on a sports blackout rule are urging the Federal Communications Commission to scrap it.

Monday was the deadline for public comments on a petition by the Sports Fans Coalition to rescind the rule, which bars cable and satellite systems from carrying a sporting event that is blacked out on local broadcast television stations. The rule has effectively reinforced the NFL's own policy, which blacks out games in home markets that aren't sold out 72 hours ahead of time.

The agency has received about 140 comments, and an overwhelming majority favors the petition. That doesn't count nearly 3,500 the Sports Fans Coalition also sent in from people clicking an email on the group's website urging that the rule be repealed. The FCC grouped all of those in one filing, under "individual comments from fans." Many of those urging the FCC to eliminate the rule argued that taxpayers have helped pay for the stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out.

Five Democratic senators filed comments with the FCC Monday urging it to reform the sports blackout rule.

"These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans," wrote Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. "That many of these stadiums were constructed or remodeled using taxpayer dollars underscores the disservice done to fans by blackouts." They called the NFL's blackout policy "a relic of a different time" and said it was time for it to end.

Several comments came from fans of the Buffalo Bills, who had three of their seven games in Buffalo blacked out last season.

Patricia Rebmann of Gowanda, N.Y., complained that residents in that area help pay for maintaining the stadium through taxes but often cannot watch the home games on TV. Rebmann said that she and her husband are senior citizens and find it nearly impossible to attend games with her husband's physical condition.

"Please, please, please do whatever it takes to lift the NFL's blackout rule so we can reap a few hours of entertainment for our tax dollars," she wrote.

Brandon Bulkley, a self-described Kansas City Chiefs fan from Roeland Park, Kan., urged the FCC to "side with the little man for once, because without us there would be no money-making Goliath called the NFL."

One of the few people in support of the rule, Peter A. Nigro, urged that the cutoff for blackouts be reduced from 72 hours to 48 or 24.

"I think without a blackout rule of some kind ... that stadium attendance would be affected somewhat by it," he wrote.

The NFL said in its filing Monday night that the sports blackout rule "supports contractual provisions that are fundamental to broadcast television and thereby enable universal distribution of high quality content, including NFL football, to all Americans and to our fans — all at no cost to those fans."