ISPs Already Fighting FCC Plan To End Anti-Competitive Landlord Broadband Deals

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

Earlier this month we noted how the FCC announced it would be taking a closer look at the dodgy deals big ISPs make with landlords to hamstring broadband competition. While the FCC passed rules in 2008 outlawing strict exclusivity agreements, big ISPs have, for years, tap-danced around the loose wording of the restrictions, often by simply calling what they're doing... something else. ISPs also still do stuff like charging door fees just to access the building (making it tougher on less wealthy, small ISPs), or striking deals that ban any competitors from even advertising in the building.

Obviously the broadband industry loves these sorts of deals, as they effectively give them a building-by-building monopoly over broadband access. As such they're already trying to apply pressure on the FCC while claiming such arrangements are secretly a really good thing:

"Comcast, Charter, Cox, and NCTA–The Internet & Television Association (the cable industry's primary lobbying group) met with FCC staff to discuss the topic on September 2, according to an ex parte filing submitted last week by NCTA. During the meeting, NCTA "described the benefits of continuing to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers," the filing said."

Granted this is the same industry that has a severe allergy to acknowledging that the U.S. broadband market has any flaws whatsoever, so of course Comcast's policy and lobbying arm thinks anti-competitive building deals are covertly a great thing. While the FCC's original rules tried to open up competitor access to in-building ISP wiring (often the property of a cable giant like Comcast), ISPs simply tap-danced around the restrictions by deeding ownership of those wires to a landlord in exchange for exclusive access to the wires. Because they're no longer technically owned by the ISP, exclusivity deals no longer violate the FCC rules.

It's all a very stupid affair, and highlights not only the lengths ISPs are willing to go to to hamstring competition, but the perpetual failure of U.S. telecom regulators to maintain baseline levels of competency. Not only were the original rules terribly written and constructed, ISPs have been exploiting that initial failure for more than a decade with absolutely no meaningful penalty. And while FCC does occasionally admit there's a problem here, the net result is usually little more than a few meetings.

This time the FCC is opening up the public commenting system for input from the public and ISPs that are harmed by these practices. But again, there's no guarantee the process actually survives ISP lobbying and ends with meaningful improvements to the rules. And because the Biden camp still hasn't appointed a permanent boss, the agency still lacks the voting majority necessary to implement actual reform anytime soon anyway.

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Filed Under: apartment buildings, broadband, competition, fcc, isps, landlords
Companies: charter, comcast, cox, ncta


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Sep 2021 @ 4:52am

    'Be a shame if something were to happen to your 'retirement'...'

    'The rules prohibit building owners from signing exclusive service agreements but if someone builds out the networks with the understanding that only the company doing that will be offered service contracts for that network that's totally different' is an excuse that's so thin it's see-through so I'd say they are not only showing their desperation to see this captive market maintained but banking really hard on the baked-in corruption to make up for offering such a pathetically flimsy excuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2021 @ 7:09am

    Biden needs to extract the digit and get the new person elected to the FCC asap! we're in this total broadband fuck up because of the ISPs and even now they're fighting things. nothing more important to them than keeping as much tax payer cash as possible for their own benefit, paying bosses mega-salaries, doing as little as possible to improve their services in particular and broadband speeds in particular and stopping everyone else who tries to do something of use to customers, like give a new, fast service with really good customer services!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    farooge (profile), 21 Sep 2021 @ 8:25am

    I get it now

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Bergman (profile), 21 Sep 2021 @ 8:29am

    My landlord had a deal like that when I moved in, but it was with the best local ISP - which still is the best.

    Anti-competitive? Sure. But anti-competitive doesn’t always screw the consumer.

    All options in the area would cost about the same per megabit of speed without that deal in place, and second best is less than half as good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    farooge (profile), 21 Sep 2021 @ 8:30am

    I get it now (2)

    I had a conversation with a friend who lives in a hi-rise and he insisted he had no choice.

    "ISPs simply tap-danced around the restrictions by deeding ownership of those wires to a landlord in exchange for exclusive access to the wires. Because they're no longer technically owned by the ISP, exclusivity deals no longer violate the FCC rules."

    holy crap, what a bunch of slime-balls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2021 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    Electing a new person to the FCC is short term fix at best because a change of party in power will change the balance of the board and allow all good work to be undone. The real roadblock in sorting out telecom and broadband issues is the way that the FCC board is tied to political patronage, and the resulting industry capture because politicians have become beholden to industry via campaign contributions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2021 @ 9:29am

    Re:

    Yes, it always does screw the customer. The best (in your opinion) would still be better if they had any incentive to improve.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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