The NFL Blackout policy: the FCC is going to screw us. Again.


Most people think that the Blackout policy for the NFL was enacted back in 1973 to help stadiums sell more tickets: if the game is sold out, that city gets to watch it on TV. If it doesn’t sell out, the game is blacked out for that city. Sounds simple, right? No, not really.

In actuality, the policy was enacted by Congress so that the home team’s city could watch ANY home game on TV. What most people today don’t know is that prior to 1973, EVERY home game was blacked out, even if the game was completely sold out weeks ahead. Yes, a home game was blacked out even if it were a playoff or championship game. And THIS is the real reason for the NFL Blackout policy.

In other words, back then the government was actually trying to HELP us poor, unfortunate football fans who want to see the game, but it’s sold out, or we can’t afford to spend $600 to take the family to a three-hour event that basically required most of the day to attend.

Today, a branch of the government is trying to screw us (again). This time it’s their attempt to eliminate the NFL Blackout policy.

Allow me to create some dots here before connecting them. Yes, I’m going to speak of eeeville.

In the old days, the FCC enacted numerous rules for cable television. One of the big ones was that cable was only allowed to scramble Premium channels (HBO, Showtime, Pay-Per-View, etc) but they must leave broadcast networks and cable networks unscrambled so that Joe Subscriber only needs to plug the cable into the rear of his TV and utilize his built-in tuner and TV remote. For Premium channels, cable television was allowed to require a descrambler.

At first, high-definition televisions sold in the U.S. did not have built-in ATSC tuners. The FCC enacted several more rules, ending with the rule that by March 1, 2007 all televisions regardless of screen size, and all interface devices that include a tuner (VCR, DVD player/recorder, DVR) must include a built-in ATSC tuner. Just plug in the cable.

I bought my first HDTV about six years ago, and then two more over the following months (those old analog TVs were no longer getting used, but I still wanted to watch a little after sex). I was already subscribed to the Expanded Basic service, which included channels like ESPN. Monday Night Football in HD? Why, yes, please. Just plug in the cable.

However, what I was unaware of was that the FCC had just enacted a rule that allowed the cable companies to scramble all of the Expanded Basic channels like ESPN, but leaving the Limited Basic channels like FOX and NBC unscrambled. The cost to rent descramblers: $9 per month, per television. Holy shit, my cable bill is suddenly increased by $27 per month with no increase in service or satisfaction? And the descamblers are designed so they aren’t compatible with my HTPCs? For timeshifting and recording I’d have to junk my HTPCs and pay $16 per month, per television for their DVR descramblers? What da fuck?

So instead I saved $25 per month by reducing my cable service down to Limited Basic. I didn’t watch most of those Expanded Basic channels anyway, and all I really missed was Monday Night Football, but I don’t really miss it.

But recently the FCC went a step further and allowed the cable companies to scramble all of the Limited Basic channels as well. My few remaining channels were all scrambled up just one week before the 2013 preseason games began. But hey, the cost of renting basic descramblers dropped to only $7 per month, per television! /sarcasm

As a result, I am now the proud owner of a ClearStream C4 antenna.

And now the Chairman of the FCC is calling for a vote to eliminate the NFL Blackout policy. And just who is the Chairman? Why, he just so happens to be Tom Wheeler, who previously was a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. In other words, some moron hired the wolf to manage the hen house.

Just a coincidence, you say? He now represents the American Public, you say? Back in April an internal FCC document was leaked indicating that Wheeler’s FCC would consider promulgating rules allowing ISPs to violate net neutrality…go ask Netflix how this has been going for them. BTW, don’t freak out when this happens to your innerwebs tomorrow.

By eliminating the NFL Blackout policy, the FCC claims they are looking after the best interests of YOU, the consumer. But over the last few years, they have repeatedly been shown to be looking after the best interests of businesses.

Are you sure that YOU know who’s side you’re on?


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