FCC Considers Whether Rules Governing Apartment Broadband Access Hinder Competition

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau announced the issuance of a public notice soliciting comment on competitive access to broadband in apartment and office buildings. According to the FCC’s accompanying news release, the invitation seeks input informing the Bureau how it can foster increased competition, consumer choice, and lower prices for tenants and office workers.

The public notice explains that the Bureau is asking for stakeholders to update the record on issues raised in the “2019 Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multiple Tenant Environments Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” In particular, the FCC has asked for input on three issues related to broadband deployment in Multiple Tenant Environment (MTE) buildings.

The first considers revenue sharing agreements between MTE owners and service providers, and whether those arrangements “inhibit entry by competitive providers or affect the price and quality of service options for consumers.” The public notice also solicits comment on exclusive wiring arrangements, whereunder MTE owners give service providers the exclusive right to use the wiring in the building. In particular, the FCC wants to know whether it remains true that these agreements do not prohibit competitive providers’ access to buildings, as determined previously.

Finally, the FCC has asked for input on whether exclusive marketing arrangements create confusion and limit tenant options. “[D]o these arrangements create confusion on the part of tenants or building owners as to whether only one provider can or does offer service to the building?” the public notice posits.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel noted that the issuance was partly driven by a desire to consider “how exclusive agreements between carriers and building owners could lock out broadband competition and consumer choice,” particularly in view of the fact that more than one-third of Americans live in condos and apartment buildings. Comments will be accepted 30 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register and reply comments 45 days therefrom.