Most people who have moved into a new apartment have had the same experience: whatever broadband provider everyone else in the building has, you have it. This type of entrapment may become less common if a new proposal from the FCC is adopted, preventing revenue sharing between suppliers and building owners and opening the door to competitors.
It is largely because of the cost of wiring a building that an address tends to be served by a single broadband provider. And while the investments should pay off to some degree, ISPs have found ways to maintain domains across entire neighborhoods.
Sometimes they are (technically) honest, like a deal with a large apartment complex where the building management takes kickbacks. And sometimes it’s loopholes in existing rules, where an ISP arranges things in a way that would be prohibitively expensive for a competitor to share the infrastructure.
The new proposal, released internally today by FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel but summarized in a statement, would prevent or mitigate some of these dirty tricks. It would ban revenue-sharing agreements altogether, require other agreements (such as marketing) to be disclosed to tenants, and close loopholes that allow wiring to be effectively exclusive when it is intended to be rented or shared.
“With more than a third of the US population living in apartments, trailer parks, condominiums and public housing, it’s time to crack down on practices that block broadband competition and consumer choice,” Rosenworcel said. “Consumers deserve access to a variety of vendors in their buildings. I look forward to my colleagues joining me in removing obstacles to competitive broadband choice for millions of tenants across the country.”
The Commission has recently started to look into the matter, opening a comment period and investigating the evidence – not surprisingly, they found “a pattern of new practices that inhibit competition, run counter to the Commission’s objectives, and limit opportunities for competitive providers to offer services to tenants of apartments, condominiums and office units”.
Rosenworcel’s current proposal is the result of that – not a sweeping new rule, but a bit of troubleshooting aimed squarely at bad faith activities commonly carried out by ISPs. The proposal will be made public sometime before the FCC vote – and even if it were tomorrow, there would likely be a considerable grace period before any of these obscure arrangements were revised. So if you expect to switch providers soon somewhere where you have no choice… keep waiting. But maybe next year.