San Francisco broadband law gains independent ISP access to hundreds of buildings

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A San Francisco municipal ordinance that gives tenants of multi-unit buildings the right to get broadband service from any qualified provider of their choosing has had a dramatic impact on the market, at least according to CALTEL, a lobbying group for independent telecoms companies in California. In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, CALTEL says San Francisco’s ordinance has opened doors for Sonic.net, California’s largest independent ISP…

Sonic now reports that the ordinance has been instrumental in assisting it to gain access to approximately 300 multi-tenant buildings in San Francisco. These facts also confirm San Francisco’s determination that the Commission’s “efforts…to enhance competition among providers of communications services in [multiple tenant environments] have not been successful,” and that it needed to “complement the Commission’s actions by prohibiting property owners from denying persons living or working in MTEs in San Francisco their right to choose a communications provider.

The FCC has two multiple tenant environment proceedings underway. One involves a direct challenge to the San Francisco ordinance and the other is a general enquiry into how, or even if, the FCC should regulate access to buildings and whether it should allow the sort of exclusive deals landlords make with broadband providers that the City and County of San Francisco wants to outlaw. It’s more than just apartment and office buildings. The FCC’s enquiry also includes “gated communities, mobile home parks, garden apartments, and other centrally managed residential real estate developments”, as well as home owner associations.

CALTEL argues that one-size-fits-all federal regulation is the wrong approach, because circumstances vary widely from state to state, and city to city. San Francisco’s desperately tight housing market combined with local rent control creates perverse incentives for landlords: lousy broadband service is one way to churn out existing tenants and bring in new ones who can be charged significantly higher rents.