FCC May Expand Inside-Wire Rules

Washington-Under pressure from data and voice providers, the Federal Communications Commission may expand rules that allow for the orderly takeover of cable wires in apartment buildings.

Current FCC rules cover cable's video competitors. But the agency said in a proposal released Oct. 25 that it would weigh whether telecommunications carriers should also benefit from the rules.

The cable involved is not that inside a subscriber's unit, but the wiring in hallways that runs to another location in the building outside of the unit. The FCC calls such cable home-run wiring.

The FCC's home-run wiring rules govern a cable operator's disposition of the wiring after it no longer has the legal right to remain on the premises.

The operator may remove the wiring or negotiate a sale with the building owner. If they can't agree on the price, the cable operator must elect whether to remove the wiring or submit to binding price arbitration.

The agency crafted these first rules in response to complaints from cable competitors that building owners were reluctant to entertain offers from new providers if that led to drilling and other construction that damaged property and annoyed tenants.

In its proposal, the FCC said it agreed with some parties that extending the home-run wiring rules to telecommunications carriers would expand the amount of home run wiring available to a broader class of competitors.

It also mentioned that the cable home-run wiring rules distorted marketplace considerations. That's because to qualify for access to cable home-run wiring under current rules, a telecommunications carrier must offer video services.

The FCC asked parties to comment on whether any technical impediment exist in using coaxial cable for the provision of telecommunications services. The agency said it was not planning rules that would provide access to telephone carriers' home-run wiring or provide access to cable home-run wiring in commercial buildings.

Current FCC rules also establish a process for the disposition of cable home-run wiring when a landlord has admitted new a video provider without forcing the incumbent cable operator to leave.

Some cable operators voiced concerns about these "unit-by-unit" rules because they may require cable operators to surrender home run wiring that could be used to sell local phone service or Internet access. But that becomes impossible if the competitor can take control of all of the home-run wiring leading to a customers apartment.

In its proposal, the FCC did not say whether telecommunications carriers would be eligible to take over cable home-run wiring in situations where the cable operator may continue to serve a building.