FCC proposal would curb ISP lock-ins at apartment complexes

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Almost everyone who has moved into a new apartment has had the same experience: you have the same Internet service provider as everyone else in the building. If a new plan from the FCC is accepted, this kind of lock-in might become less widespread. The idea would prohibit revenue-sharing between service providers and building owners while opening the door to competition for service providers.

A single broadband provider often services a location primarily due to the high expense of wiring a building in most cases. In addition, although investments should be rewarded to a certain level, Internet service providers (ISPs) have devised methods to maintain strangleholds on whole communities.

Sometimes they’re (technically) legal, such as a deal with a large apartment complex where the building management receives a commission. There are also loopholes in current standards when one ISP sets up things so that it would be prohibitively costly for a competition to share infrastructure.

The latest plan, which was shared internally today by FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel but was outlined in a press release, would prohibit or reduce some of these dirty methods from being used by the government. It would deny revenue sharing agreements outright, require renters to be informed of alternative arrangements (such as marketing), and address loopholes that enable the wire to be functionally exclusive when intended to be leased or shared.

According to Rosenworcel, “With more than one-third of the population of the United States residing in apartment buildings, mobile home parks, condos, and public housing, it is past time to clamp down on tactics that prevent broadband competition and consumer choice.” “Consumers should be able to choose from a variety of service providers in their buildings. I look forward to working with my colleagues to remove the barriers that prevent millions of tenants across the country from having access to competitive broadband options.” The Federal Communications Commission recently began looking into the issue, opening a comment period and investigating the evidence — not surprisingly, they discovered “a pattern of new practices that inhibit competition, contrary to the Commission’s goals, and limit opportunities for competitive providers to offer service for an apartment, condo, and townhouse tenants.” The FCC recently began looking into the issue, opening a comment period and investigating the evidence

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Rosenworcel’s present proposal is the outcome of this — it is not a comprehensive new regulation but rather a problem-solving exercise directed directly at the bad faith activities regularly engaged in by Internet service providers. At some point before the FCC’s decision, the plan will be made public — and even if that happened tomorrow, there would likely be a significant amount of time before any of these dubious agreements are amended. Keep your fingers crossed for those wishing to transfer service providers soon in a situation where they have little option. However, next year may be a better time.

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