Sonic says access to MDUs is critical to expanding its FTTH service footprint

WaterWalk Las Colinas is a franchised property owned by a group of Wichita investors and led by Allan Dunne.
Sonic struggled to convince landlords of local MDUs to grant it access to their buildings to install fiber-based broadband services. Image: WaterWalk

As Sonic, a competitive ISP serving the California market, looks to expand its FTTH network the service provider says getting access to local multidwelling units (MDUs) in the markets it serves is important to build its customer base.

After building up a sizable customer base of ADSL2+ and VDSL2 subscribers by leveraging copper lines from AT&T, Sonic started to build out its own FTTH facilities in California.

Despite offering consumers a $40 a month 1 Gbps FTTH service, Sonic struggled to convince landlords of local MDUs to grant it access.

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Dane Jasper, CEO and co-founder of Sonic said during a Nov. 30 Budget and Finance Committee hearing in San Francisco (PDF) that the service provider began having issues in gaining access to some MDUs in the city.

According to testimony given during the meeting, when Jasper told one building that it had received nine requests for service and wanted to get building access to install necessary wiring facilities and equipment, he was told the building owner had had a bad experience with a Verizon Wireless antenna on the rooftop and did not want to provide access to any other providers.

The building representative was not swayed when Sonic tried to explain its fiber facilities were different than wireless, both from a regulatory perspective and in the way it used building infrastructure to support its facilities. Jasper was was told by a property management firm representative that “the owner does not approve of installing Sonic in the building. I recommend that you not waste any more time in pursuing this further.”

A new hope emerged for Sonic after San Francisco passed Article 52 in January, a new ordinance that amended the police code and focused on three issues: prohibiting owners of multiple-occupancy buildings from interfering with the choice of communications services providers by occupants; establishing requirements for communications services providers to obtain access to multiple occupancy buildings; and establishing remedies for violation of the access requirement.

Since Mayor Ed Lee signed off Article 52, Sonic said it has been able to gain access to more MDUs in San Francisco. By having a written timeline and process to pursue MDU opportunities, Sonic has been able to not only educate property owners about their rights and obligations under the ordinance, but also gain access to MDUs that it was previously denied.

“Competitive access to MDUs is a critical point for usand the new ordinance in San Francisco has really helped us with convincing building owners that they must allow us to serve their tenants,” said Dane Jasper, CEO and co-founder of Sonic, in an e-mail to FierceTelecom.

Jasper added that while offering a $40 a month FTTH service with unlimited voice calling is compelling for consumers and MDU owners, the company still faces some protests.

“Given that we offer gigabit fiber and unlimited home phone for $40/month, that's a win/win for those tenants and for Sonic,” Jasper said. “And, we'd argue, a win for building owners, though some don't seem to agree.”

Sonic’s comments come at an interesting time for MDU broadband regulations.

Earlier this month, the FCC asked 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.

While existing FCC rules bar telecom and video providers from entering into exclusive agreements banning competition in multidwelling 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.

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