FCC probes broadband competition in multi-tenant buildings

FCC meeting room
The agency called for comments on three specific issues related to broadband in multiple dwelling units. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sought to update its understanding of how broadband is deployed in multiple tenant buildings, probing whether certain types of deals between landlords and internet service providers (ISPs) hinder competition.

In a public notice, the agency called for comments on three specific issues related to broadband in multiple dwelling units, including revenue sharing arrangements, exclusive wiring deals and exclusive marketing pacts between landlords and ISPs. The goal, it said, is to determine whether these effectively block out competing providers, impact the price or quality of service, or otherwise confuse or reduce choice for tenants.

The FCC has had rules on the books since 2000 prohibiting landlords from giving service providers exclusive access to a building to offer service, but left room for other types of deals. For instance, the commission in 2007 determined exclusive wiring deals don’t necessarily block competing providers from accessing buildings.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement “with more than one-third of the U.S. population living in condos and apartment buildings, it’s time to take a fresh look at how exclusive agreements between carriers and building owners could lock out broadband competition and consumer choice.”

In addition to the aforementioned issues, the FCC said it is also seeking comment on “other types of contractual provisions and non-contractual practices what affect competition, limit tenant choice, or lead to increased prices or decreased service quality.” Initial comments are due within 30 days.

RELATED: Biden order on broadband competition could hit wall at FCC

The move comes after President Joe Biden signed an executive order targeting broadband competition in July. The document specifically called on the FCC to address deals between landlords and service providers which “leave tenants with only one option.”

At the time, however, analysts at New Street Research noted any effort by the FCC to take action on the issue in the near term would likely be hindered by political deadlock.

The five-member agency is currently down a commissioner and evenly divided along political lines. It could soon be down another member since Rosenworcel’s five-year term expired in June. While she is permitted to remain at the agency through the end of the current session of Congress unless the Senate replaces her, she will be forced to leave in January 2022 absent action by Biden to reappoint her.