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FCC Seeks Comment on Barriers to Delivery of Broadband Services

On June 22, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking input on the market for broadband in residential and commercial “multiple tenant environments” (MTEs) including rental apartment communities, condominiums, community associations, shopping centers, offices and other centrally-managed properties. Specifically, the FCC plans to review policies on exclusive marketing and bulk billing arrangements, as well as revenue sharing and exclusive wiring agreements between property owners and service providers.

Importantly, the NOI will also examine the impact of state and local regulations on broadband deployment and competition. This action coincides with the FCC’s consideration of a petition by the Multifamily Broadband Council (MBC) challenging a San Francisco ordinance that could impact an apartment company’s ability to manage broadband, video and communications services at their communities. The impact of the NOI on MBC’s petition is unclear at this time.

NAA filed comments on May 18 supporting MBC’s challenge to the San Francisco ordinance. NAA urged the FCC to preempt the law because it conflicts with federal policy. In its comments, NAA focused on the important role of the building owner in obtaining low priced and high quality services for residents, emphasizing that many buildings are served by competing providers.  Communications services are valuable building amenities, and buildings compete based upon the existence and quality of amenities.  San Francisco’s ordinance takes that role from the building owner, allowing service providers to enter the premises and take valuable space while not offering services attractive to residents.  NAA argued that in the past, the FCC found statutes granting communications service providers forced access to tenants are anti-competitive, and the San Francisco ordinance has the same effect.  The ordinance uses the potential for large fines and attorneys’ fees awards to unfairly favor the service provider.  Also, NAA urged that the ordinance serves no public policy, as building owners are already incentivized to see that their residents receive the best, most fairly priced communications services.   

For the purposes of obtaining member input for its comments, NAA conducted a survey of its members owning or managing apartment buildings in San Francisco. The results of this survey show existing robust competition for the provision of communications services to the resident that is actively supported and developed by apartment building owners. Building owner participation in the process ensures that service providers offer tenant-responsive services.

NAA will continue to monitor the FCC’s actions on this issue, including any movement on the MBC petition, and will review and respond to the NOI as appropriate.