15 Years Late, The FCC Cracks Down On Broadband Apartment Monopolies

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

A major trick dominant broadband providers use to limit competition is exclusive broadband arrangements with landlords. Often an ISP will strike an exclusive deal with the owner of a building, apartment complex, or development that effectively locks in a block by block monopoly. And while the FCC passed rules in 2007 to purportedly stop this from happening, they contained too many loopholes to be of use.

Susan Crawford wrote pretty much the definitive story on this at Wired a while back, noting that the rules are so terrible, ISPs and landlords can tap dance around them by simply calling what they’re doing… something else:

“…The Commission has been completely out-maneuvered by the incumbents. Sure, a landlord can?t enter into an exclusive agreement granting just one ISP the right to provide Internet access service to an MDU, but a landlord can refuse to sign agreements with anyone other than Big Company X, in exchange for payments labeled in any one of a zillion ways. Exclusivity by any other name still feels just as abusive.”

Fifteen years later and the FCC is finally doing something about it. After being nudged toward the action via Biden’s executive order on competition, the FCC has finally voted to update its rules on this front, tightening rules banning outright building by building monopolies.

There’s still some wiggle room for ISPs though, even under the new rules that should be formally adopted later this year. One thing ISPs enjoy doing is striking a financial partnership with a landlord, then signing a deal that bans anybody but the primary ISP from advertising in the building. Under the updated rules ISPs and landlords can still do this, they just have to be transparent about it.

The updated rules do tighten up the rules to clearly prohibit other shady tactics, however. For example the FCC’s original 2007 rules prohibited ISPs from blocking any competitors from using in-building wiring (which in many cases was installed by a regional monopoly years ago). So to get around this, cable and phone monopoly lawyers came up with a workaround: the ISP would deed ownership of the in-building wires to the landlord, who would turn around and grant exclusive access to those wires to their favored ISP (read: whichever ISP gave them the most money or had the best lawyers).

According to a statement by FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel, the rule update specifically prohibits this practice:

“We clarify that sale-and-leaseback arrangements violate our existing rules that regulate cable wiring inside buildings. Since the 1990s, we have had rules that allow buildings and tenants to exercise choice about how to use the wiring in the building when they are switching cable providers, but some companies have circumvented these rules by selling the wiring to the building and leasing it back on an exclusive basis. We put an end to that practice today.”

Again, it’s fairly inexcusable that it took the FCC literally the better part of a generation to outlaw these kinds of practices to help boost building-by building competition. But it’s fairly representative of a U.S. regulatory apparatus that’s consistently handcuffed, under-funded, and lobbied into apathy by regional monopolies who very much prefer the profitable status quo (cable providers, as you’d expect, fought against these latest rule updates). And while it’s great news the FCC still did something about it, enforcement and actual tough penalties (not the FCC’s strong suit) will be key. As will acting more swiftly and competently when they find telecom monopoly lawyers have crafted entirely new convoluted legal workarounds.

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Comments on “15 Years Late, The FCC Cracks Down On Broadband Apartment Monopolies”

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2''sday 22222 says:

"it's fairly inexcusable"

…but the constant FCC failings are constantly excused anyway.

It’s like the Weather — everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it.

FCC incompetent bureaucracy is just "accepted" as a daily fact of life.
Too hard to actually change the FCC (?), but great amusement to keep complaining about it decade after decade.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: "it's fairly inexcusable"

It’s not the FCC bureaucracy that’s at fault here. The staff of the FCC are limited by what the FCC’s regulations say, and those regulations are dictated by the commissioners and appointed heads of the various offices and bureaus. If you want to find the problems, look to the people at the top because, like in any company, they set the expectations for everyone below them.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

IndefinitelyTired says:


Hi, I know that this really isn’t the appropriate place to post this, but it’s the most recent article, and will probably receive a wider viewing audience.
Hi. My name is (well, for the purpose here I’m just gonna go by Alexi) Alexi. I’m a 17 year old male, and I have a slight problem. Just, I don’t know, lets call it "relationship issues". I have this girl, a very sweet and attractive girl, who I am attracted to. She’s kinda special to me, but I haven’t told her that. I have no plans to tell her. She is 18, turning 19 this april, so there is an age gap, and we have talked about whether or no she would be open to dating a younger guy. She said "probably not".
We flirt constantly, but not seriously. Moreso mindless flirting when we are bored. Lately though, we have both opened up more around each other, as such things normally do over time. She sometimes brings up her exs, and how they suck (to which my response is that all exs suck). I text her good morning, and good night texts, with hearts (the hearts are again only playful flirting). I am afraid that I have fucked myself over, and have dug a permanent hole into the friendzone, such as whence I cannot escape from.
We have been talking since the 22nd of January, and met at a wrestling tournament (btw if u wanna see me dominate here’s the link to article I’m in.


I’m the one wrestling Ian Farrel, in the 106 weight class), and we were really hitting it off.

I need to know if I should wait more, and to work towards making her blush (we have this bet that I can make her blush before she graduates, since it takes a lot to make her blush), or if I should just ask her out now.
I live in the Netherlands, and she lives in Germany, and it’s a 5 hour drive to her house, so we don’t hang out together outside of tournaments. She also goes to a different school then I, which further complicates things.

On a different note, there is this other girl. She lives in New Zealand, and is super hot. She also stays up late at night, and that’s how we talk. I met her on a game, and that was about a week ago. We started doing vc and cc on Discord, and I dig her. She is also 17, turning 18 in april (are you starting to see a pattern?), and I did ask if she was looking for a boyfriend, and she said not really. Which puts me in the semi friendzone. However, she is super flirty, and I do believe that I can escape from the friendzone. However, I need more time, which I do have, but not the most. We have exact opposite time zones, and I’m currently grounded (so I can’t send her 3 am (3 pm her time) booty calls and drunk text her (which has its pluses and minuses) I also can’t her if she needed me emotionally, which is sad)
Which brings me to the moral dilemma. Is is bad for me to want two women at the same time (obviously I wouldn’t date both of them at the same time, I’m not a sociopath)? Yes, as a 17 year old male, I often have casual sex, but that’s something else entirely. We won’t talk about that.

What do I do?
Or honestly, just some general advice on life would be nice.



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Anonymous Coward says:

yet they’re still ignoring Broadband Monopolies completely? i’m 110% sure that all citizens expected the ‘new FCC’ to be more in tune with customers, the public, bringing back the rules that the arsehole Pai removed, just to please the likes of Verizon and Comcast. what have we seen, however? the biggest likes of fuck all! those same broadband companies are in the same position as before with the same extortionate prices, the same piss-poor service and the same piss-poor customers service, all the while having Congress members throw money at them like a man with no arms! what an absolute shambles! what a fucking disgrace!!

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You do understand, don’t you, that on the very same day that Biden took office, Pai quit sucking Big Telecom’s chota. That left the FCC at 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats, which translates to a stalemate in any vote that would work to benefit the people. What that boils down to is, lacking a clear majority in any vote, everything remains at status quo. Right now, the status quo is that you’re still going to have to pay through the nose to get your nightly pron fix at glacial speeds.

The solution is easy: call your senators and tell them that if they don’t get with the program and confirm Gigi Sohn, then you’re going to vote for someone else come next election day.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s quite common for some people to assert that, despite the clear and obviously different positions on a number of political and social issues, both Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same because they’re both bought by other people.

There is some small truth to that, but it’s not really true in reality and you certainly won’t change any of that if your reaction to that is to just not bother voting at all, as Dave just implied. If you don’t vote, then you leave it to everyone else to make the decisions for you.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Regulatory capture at its finest.
If they spent half as much on improving things as they have finding loopholes to avoid competing we’d have GB to the home.

Also Alexi, you arr still young. There will be more girls in your life, you don’t have a limited window to find "the one".
Also your girl in NZ is most likely a man.
I am a sociopath, so there is nothing wrong with dating multiple people as long as you are honest. If you are going to be exclusive with that person, be exclusive.
As Johnny Depp is alleged to have said, if you find yourself in love with 2 people, pick the 2nd one because you were never that deeply in love with the first one.

cattress (profile) says:

Is this going to even make the tiniest margin of increased competition for these consumers to choose from, or even an incentive worthy of a competitor to enter the market?
Cuz I kinda think it’s just going to screw consumers out of a substantial discount or "free" (as in included in rent) broadband/cable that some places offer to attract renters. How does this really change anything with the federal cable franchise law still on the books?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Is this actually a good thing?

You mandating that the owner of a property can not make decisions about who is allowed or not allowed access to the property.

This is private property after all. Single entity ownership.
Those that live on the property are renters. Not owners.

Should renting an apartment for 1 month give you more rights than renting a hotel room for a month eg at Extended Stay America or Red Roof Inn?
This appears to be a violation of personal liberty to me; telling the owner that they can’t make their own decisions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Is this actually a good thing?

Lol, of course you’d side with the corporate monopolies instead of the public.

"This is private property after all. Single entity ownership."

The whole building?

"Should renting an apartment for 1 month give you more rights than renting a hotel room for a month"

Is that a common thing in the US? I’ve never known a rental contract to be less than 6 months, and they’re usually for 1 year, renewed annually where I live. But, what do I know – you also don’t lose all rights just because you’re renting and be forced in to a monopoly contract since no local monopolies exist where I live. For some reason, the owners of the both the building and the apartment I currently rent had no problem with me choosing my ISP from the several options available.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is this actually a good thing?

The whole building?

Yes. On paper. By law. The owner is the apartment landlord/company.
There may be some difference if you’re, apparently, not in the US. But here the owner is different than the renter.

6mo -2yr is most common. But yes, many monthly rental options or 3mo options can be found.

I’m not siding with cable monopolies. I’m siding with property owners. The whole libertarian streak.

This puts limitations on proprietary owners as to choices they can make in utilities.

Keep in mind two other aspects here ignored in this discussion.
Pre wired rental properties tend to include the service as part of the rental price, OR, offer that service at a discounted rate.

Very few flat out block an alternative service choice. In most states, where I’ve been pre wired for one company where there were multiple options… using the other option was no more difficult than calling up the company and paying for an installation.

The only time I was told no, I passed on the location outright. You know, or should have known, your options when you sign the rental contract.
Much like living in an (owned) condo with a condo association or a community with a community association.
The rule and regulations are there up front.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is this actually a good thing?

"This puts limitations on proprietary owners as to choices they can make in utilities."

Yes, and that’s where "libertarianism" suddenly shifts from people making their own decisions to people being forced to use more expensive and inferior services because it suits someone else. It’s strange to me that it always seems to boil down to instead of individual freedom, it’s always down to what some local clique has decided is best for their own pocket even if it damages everyone else’s.

"Very few flat out block an alternative service choice"

Again, I’m only asking because where I live there’s usually multiple services available, and you have a choice of ISP service even if the last mile infrastructure only comes from one provider. From my understand of the state of things in the US, because the monopolies have been retained instead of being dismantled by things like local loop unbundling and separating the service from the physical cable, people don’t generally have that choice. Which doesn’t exactly seem like the best choice for all, especially in areas where the average person can’t actually buy property on the average wage.

"You know, or should have known, your options when you sign the rental contract."

Which is great, assuming options never change after you sign the contract or monopolies are so tight that you never have a choice of apartment building that’s not under the same monopoly. It’s great when people have a real choice of where to live and the ISP is a negotiating tool in that, but if you need somewhere to live and everyone’s tied to the same monopoly because all the building owners have been bought, then that supposed choice becomes moot.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Is this actually a good thing?

It’s rather uncommon to find a total service lockout in a location that has multiple service options. Local and state regulations usually all renters some self-paid modification options. Nearly always that includes cable/internet.

Now: if a customer should pay a massive install and connection fee to an already wired location? That’s a separate problem.

The other item of discussion here: private property rights.
I believe you’re approaching this as if renting removes the owner right of control.
That’s a problem for me. What if trump simply bought a cable company. The apartment complex manager doesn’t want to have his name/company associated with that company. So they sign a pre-wire agreement with AntiTrump Cable.
Trump supporter can usually call up Trump cable and pay $99 or whatever to get the service installed and set up. Or they can call the office and tell the landlord to turn on AntiTrump cable for no install/service fee.

Now, we can argue that a property shouldn’t be single-service but many of these agreements include free or discounted installation for the property owner. By agreeing to terms with AntiTrump cable to wire every unit they have their new property wired with coax or fibre for a very discounted price or even for free. In exchange they are the primary pre installed service option.

It’s a good debate on who has greater rights, the owner or the renter.
And I honestly have reservations on throwing into either camp when there is only one possible option.

But as long as the renter can still chose another service, I have no problem with pre-wire agreements.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Is this actually a good thing?

"I believe you’re approaching this as if renting removes the owner right of control."

Whereas you seem to think that opening a property up for public accommodation means that they can still treat the property as if they have no additional responsibilities as a result.

That’s not how it works. Once you open things up to the public, you have to abide by certain compromises. This includes access to utilities.

"What if"

Just once, it would be nice if you could have a conversation based on verifiable facts, rather than stupid strawmen you construct to argue a what if scenario that doesn’t exist.

"It’s a good debate on who has greater rights, the owner or the renter"

What’s the subject? If the subject is that the owner wants control of his little fiefdom and finds it more profitable to force the renters into inferior service for basic utilities, usually the renters’ rights should supercede the owner’s. If he wants complete control, all he has to do is not open up accommodation to the public.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Is this actually a good thing?

Thing is, as I said, it’s rather rare to find a longer-term location with zero possibility of changing cable or internet options through some method.

I also find it ironic you’d Focus on “ If he wants complete control, all he has to do is not open up accommodation to the public” here but throw opposing opinions out the window on social media.

Your stance is inconsistent.

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