The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced it is seeking comments on broadband access in multi-tenant buildings.
The FCC wants to gain a better understanding of consumer choice and pricing in apartment and office buildings. Even though most cities have multiple internet service providers (ISPs), renters are often stuck with only one option due to agreements between ISPs and landlords.
The Wireline Competition Bureau is seeking comments about:
- Revenue sharing agreements between landlords and ISPs, which incentivizes the landlord to steer tenants to a certain provider.
- Exclusive wiring agreements in which a landlord says only one ISP can provide service to the building.
- Exclusive marketing agreements in which only one ISP is allowed to market in the building.
In 2008, the FCC banned exclusive contracts for telecommunications services in apartment buildings.
Even so, ISPs and landlords have found ways to circumvent the rules, preventing tenants from having internet options. A landlord is prohibited from contracting with an ISP for sole service to a building.
One way to get around this rule is to deed ownership of the wiring to the landlord, allowing the landlord to decide which companies have access or not. The FCC rules do not apply, because the landlord owns the wiring.
ISPs can also enter into an agreement with landlords to prevent advertising in the building. The landlord can impose fees on companies that need access to install new wiring. All of these practices block competition for tenants, which drives up prices and limits options, and is the focus of the FCC’s push.
The FCC wants to hear from consumers who have dealt with broadband building restrictions. Tenants, landlords, real estate agents and even ISP owners can comment on the FCC proceedings for 30 days following the public notice.
If you’re a property owner, it’s time to review your agreements in this area to make sure you don’t end up in the FCC’s crosshairs now or in the future.