FCC’s idea of open access to broadband service might not be so open

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It’s hard to tell where the Federal Communications Commission is going with a new enquiry into open (or not) access rules for broadband, television and telephone service providers in apartments, condos, commercial buildings and other multiple tenant environments. Assuming commissioners vote to begin it – a safe bet – all they’d be doing immediately is asking for comments from anyone with an opinion on the subject. It’s not being done out of idle curiosity, though.

The draft of the notice that would open the enquiry says the grand goal is "to facilitate greater consumer choice and to enhance broadband deployment". But choice is in the eye of the chooser. It’s one thing to prohibit a cable company from signing an exclusive deal with a landlord that prevents tenants from installing satellite dishes, but quite another to say that members of a condo association can’t pool their market power and make a bulk buy of television or broadband service.

The current FCC majority is not a populist one. One of its earliest decisions was to kill an initiative begun during the Obama administration to open up the set top box market. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has gone on rants about the evils of municipal broadband and urged congress to subsidise big incumbents rather than independent competitors. It’s a world view that’s consistent with the Orwellian message pushed by telco and cable lobbyists that anything that threatens their monopolies will doom consumer choice and end broadband deployment.

It’s also clear from the draft that the FCC doesn’t think highly of local efforts, such as in San Francisco, to require open access for Internet service providers to apartments and condos – the first bullet point in the half page "fact sheet" that accompanied the notice refers to the imposition of "overly burdensome infrastructure access requirements onto private companies" by state and local governments.

Take nothing for granted.