Exclusive deals nixed as ISPs get access to San Francisco MDUs

23 January 2017 by Steve Blum
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It’s open season on apartment buildings and condominiums in San Francisco, at least where communications services are concerned. The San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved, and mayor Ed Lee signed, an ordinance that permits residents of multiple dwelling units (MDUs) to buy broadband (and telephone and video) service from any qualified provider. Landlords or homeowners associations have to allow competitive providers access to the property and to any wiring they own. ISPs have to pay “just and reasonable compensation” and give proper notice, as defined in the ordinance.

There is a hurdle that ISPs have to clear, though. The ordinance only applies to “communications services providers”, which means…

A [company] that: (a) has obtained a franchise to provide video service from the California Public Utilities Commission under [DIVCA]; (b) has obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission…to provide telecommunications services; or (c) is a telephone corporation as that term is defined in [the] California Public Utilities Code.

Translation: the ordinance does not include just any cowboy with a pick up truck and ladder who wants to install a wireless terminal on the roof and then distribute Internet (or video or phone) service to residents. It only applies to incumbents – Comcast and AT&T in San Francisco – and ISPs that have gone to the trouble of getting certified as a competitive telephone company by the CPUC.

If a landlord has an agreement with an ISP (or cable or telephone company) for exclusive access, well, tough…

A property owner that, as of the effective date of this Article, has an agreement with a communication services provider that purports to grant the communications services provider exclusive access to a multiple occupancy building and/or the existing wiring to provide services is not exempt from the requirements of this Article.

In theory, other incumbent telcos and cable companies – Frontier and Charter, to use the next largest players in California as an example – could take advantage of the law, but that’s not going to happen. Like mafia families, monopoly dons respect each other’s territories, lest a war no one will win breaks out.

Property owners and companies that make a living selling exclusive deals to them objected, of course. No doubt, it’ll be challenged in court, but for now, it’s the law of the land in San Francisco.