FCC revisits methods to increase broadband competition in multitenant buildings

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The FCC wants to see if broadband deployment and competition within MTEs is being stymied, either due to regulation or business practices. (Image: FCC)

The FCC is asking for comments on how to drive broadband competition in multiple-tenant environments (MTEs), including apartments and shopping malls, with an eye towards accelerating service access.

Although current FCC rules bar telecom and video providers from entering into exclusive agreements banning competition in multi-dwelling units (MDUs), the regulator voted during its June meeting to adopt a Notice of Inquiry seeking information about what additional barriers to deployment may exist.

The FCC is requesting input on whether and the ways in which it should act to remove any barriers that raise the cost and slow deployment in MTEs of networks.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s notice of inquiry (NOI) (PDF) on the topic sought comment “on ways to facilitate greater consumer choice and to enhance broadband deployment" in MTEs, to determine "... whether additional Commission action in this area is warranted to eliminate or reduce barriers faced by broadband providers that seek to serve MTE occupants.”

RELATED: FCC takes on anticompetitive broadband practices in MDUs

By finding out more about the current state of competition in MTEs, the regulator wants to understand a few key issues:

State and local regulations: The FCC wants to see if existing regulations inhibit broadband deployment and competition within MTEs, such as by preventing market entry or mandating infrastructure sharing by private companies.

Marketing agreements:  The regulator will take action regarding service providers’ exclusive marketing and bulk billing arrangements within MTEs.

Existing agreements: The inquiry will look at how revenue-sharing agreements and exclusive wiring arrangements between multi-tenant building owners and internet service providers may affect broadband competition within MTEs.

Chairman Pai said in a statement that the regulator wants to ensure that consumers and employees of companies that reside in MTEs have adequate broadband access.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai

“People who live or work in MTEs want and need high-speed Internet access,” Pai said. “But we’ve heard that there are sometimes barriers that discourage or even prevent broadband providers from serving them.”

Pai added that he visited a Detroit competitive provider, Rocket Fiber, which targets MDUs with fiber-based broadband services, and listened to its issues with building owners.  

“I saw for myself how this scrappy startup is connecting Motor City residents with a new gigabit broadband network. But the company explained to me that they were having trouble getting access to MTEs in order to provide internet access and competitive choice to folks in apartment buildings, which is a problem for both the tenants (for obvious reasons) and the company,” Pai said.

Rocket Fiber is not the only competitive provider that has struggled with getting access to MTEs. San Francisco-based Sonic, which offers a $40 a month 1 Gbps service in three California cities, has faced a similar problem.

After conducting trials in the California communities of Sebastopol and Brentwood, Sonic began deploying its FTTP product in the Sunset, Richmond and Parkside districts of San Francisco in 2016.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn Image: FCC
Mignon Clyburn

“Sonic’s facilities-based fiber deployment has caused it to encounter a number of barriers that it had not previously faced with its UNE-Loop (UNE-L) based services, including unreasonable delays and costs associated with access to poles, conduits, local permitting processes, and access to MDUs,” said Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, in a California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies (CALTEL) FCC filing (PDF).

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn agreed with Pai and added that access to affordable broadband is not just an issue in rural areas, but also “in densely populated areas as well” and this “NOI represents an important first step, to ensure that barriers to competition are torn down.”

“Many MTE occupants are unaware of the deals between their building owners and these companies, but it is important for consumers and potential competitors, to have the power to compete and choose the provider, that would serve them best,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Competition most often than not, brings lower prices and greater innovation, so it is imperative that we do all we can, to promote these ideals.”