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Viewpoint

This page highlights efforts of Consumers Union to improve the marketplace

Published: December 2013
Photo: John Rensten

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Where we stand: Blowing the whistle on TV blackout rules

The issue: If most tickets to a professional sports matchup aren’t sold, the game usually can’t be televised in the local market.

Our take: Fans are unfairly being left in the dark. The Federal Communications Commission set the rules that require sports blackouts back in the early 1970s, a time when team owners relied heavily on the revenue from ticket sales. But over the past four decades, dramatic changes in the marketplace have generated millions of dollars in additional revenue sources for the leagues and teams. Some teams even take advantage of special benefits and subsidies that are often bankrolled by taxpayers.

Consumers Union thinks sports blackouts should be benched and urges lawmakers to pass a new bipartisan bill in Congress that would help curb the practice. Separately, the FCC has signaled that it’s taking a hard look at dropping its own rules. That announcement is encouraging, but we urge Congress and the FCC to keep the ball moving so that fans can have greater access to the games.

Read more about the blackout rule and the FANS Act.

Web watch

We have long advised against payday loans, where lenders hold a borrower’s postdated check or tap directly into his or her bank account to withdraw the money on payday. Although the process sounds like a decent solution to short-term money woes, payday loans tend to carry high costs and unexpected fees, and to cause other problems. As a result, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently began accepting consumer complaints regarding the lending practice at consumerfinance.gov/complaint. Your complaints are important for helping the CFPB enforce current laws and create future regulations.

Fighting to stop deadly hospital infections

It has been 10 years since Consumers Union launched a national campaign to require hospitals to publicly report how often their patients acquire infections. Since then, we have helped pass laws in 31 states and the District of Columbia requiring that disclosure. And hospitals nationwide now earn financial incentives through Medicare if they report infection rates. Those measures have stimulated prevention efforts, but medical harm remains too common.

As many as 440,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable harm that occurs while they’re hospitalized, according to a recent analysis in the Journal of Patient Safety. It’s the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Our network of activists continues to advocate for the elimination of medical errors and hospital infections and to strengthen oversight of doctors. To learn more or share your story, go to SafePatientProject.org.

$51 billion

The Department of Education was projected to earn that amount in profits from student loans in 2013. But though business is booming for lenders, that isn’t exactly a good thing for the millions of families struggling to keep up with the cost of education. “Degrees of Debt,” a new report by Consumers Union, highlights the urgent need for student-loan reform. To read the report or share your student-loan situation, go to DefendYourDollars.org.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
   

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