FCC Adopts Rules Boosting Broadband Choice for Tenants

A multi-dwelling building in the East Village of New York
(Image credit: Alexander Spatari via Getty Images)

The FCC has unanimously voted to close what it says are loopholes that have allowed broadband providers to evade rules meant to give tenants in Multi-Tenant Environments (MTEs) — such as apartments, condos or mobile homes — more choice among internet services.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel Friday (January 21) circulated a Report and Order and Declaratory Ruling to the other commissioners, which they have now adopted, according to her office.

The new rules:

1) Prohibit providers and dwelling owners (park owners in the case of mobile homes) from striking exclusive revenue-sharing agreements;

2) Require providers to let tenants know “in plain language” if they have exclusive marketing arrangements with building owners — though importantly it does not prohibit such arrangements.

A separate declaratory ruling clarifies that existing FCC rules on cable inside wiring disallows sale-and leaseback arrangements that the FCC also said block access to competitive offerings.

Also: FCC Seeks Input on Broadband and MTEs

Rosenworcel said Tuesday (February 15) that the new rules "will crack down on practices that prevent competition and effectively block a consumer’s ability to get lower prices or higher quality services," saying that a third of the country now lives in multi-tenant buildings, often with only one choice of broadband provider. 

“Finally, competition comes to the condo. I feel like we just knocked down an old monopoly skyscraper at the FCC," said Chip Pickering CEO of INCOMPAS, which represents competitive carriers. “Introducing more broadband choice will unlock lower prices, faster speeds and better customer service for tens of millions of Americans living in apartment buildings and other multi-tenant environments. By ending broadband monopolies in buildings and enabling greater competition, we can kickstart a deployment revolution for fiber and faster speed services that cost less and deliver more to one third of American families living, working and studying from an apartment they call home." 

“Today’s decision promises to offer more: more broadband choice to more Americans," said Benton Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman. "I suspect that the scope of this problem has been underestimated. I do know, from personal experience, that it has been too easy to evade the current rules so that homeowners and tenants lost the benefits of competitive pricing and choice of internet providers. This order is a very good thing.”

"This is a great win for broadband consumers," said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. "The proposal by chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel will eliminate loopholes that internet service providers have exploited to limit choice and increase cost for consumers. Policies that introduce more options for consumers and competition in the broadband marketplace will ultimately create lower prices and better quality of service for consumers." ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.