Tired Of Federal Apathy, Oakland Moves To Ban Anticompetitive Broadband Landlord Deals

from the this-stuff-can-be-fixed-if-you-care-enough dept

We've noted for years how corruption and apathy have resulted in the U.S. broadband sector being heavily monopolized, resulting in 83 million Americans having the choice of just one ISP. Tens of millions more Americans only have the choice of their local cable company or an apathetic local phone company that hasn't meaningfully upgraded their aging DSL lines in twenty years. On top of that problem is another problem: ISPs routinely bribe or bully apartment, condo, and other real estate owners into providing them cozy exclusivity arrangements that block broadband competition on a block by block level as well.

While the FCC tried to ban such landlord/monopoly ISP shenanigans back in 2006, the rules were poorly crafted. As a result, this stuff still routinely happens, it's just called...something else (Susan Crawford wrote the definitive piece on this for Wired a few years back).

For example ISPs will still strike deals with landlords banning any other ISP from advertising in the building. Sometimes landlords will still block competitor access to buildings entirely. Or they'll charge building access fees that unfairly penalize smaller competitors that may not be able to afford them. Or, because the rules prohibit ISPs from blocking access to an ISP's in building wiring, they'll just lease these building lines to the landlord, who'll then block access to competitors on behalf of the monopoly ISP (because technically the landlord now owns them). It's just noxious, weedy bullshit, and it's been going on for decades.

While the FCC has recently made a little noise about revisiting the subject, any policymaking there could take years to sluggishly materialize. Like most broadband reform, feckless federal leadership has driven reform to take place at a faster cadence on the local level. In Oakland, for example, the city council just voted to effectively eliminate all landlord/ISP anticompetitive shenanigans to encourage broadband competition:

"Oakland residents shared the stories of their personal experience; a broad coalition of advocates, civil society organizations, and local internet service providers (ISPs) lifted their voices; and now the Oakland City Council has unanimously passed Oakland’s Communications Service Provider Choice Ordinance. The newly minted law frees Oakland renters from being constrained to their landlord's preferred ISP by prohibiting owners of multiple occupancy buildings from interfering with an occupant's ability to receive service from the communications provider of their choice."

The ordinance closely mirrors a similar law passed in San Francisco aimed at ending anticompetitive ISP/landlord schemes. The ordinance kills all kinds of payola nonsense that occurs on this front. If a competitor needs to access the building because a tenant has ordered service, landlords can't block it (within reason, you still couldn't install your own giant tower on the rooftop).

Again it wasn't particularly hard to craft such effective provisions if the willpower is there. But the political influence telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast have on state and federal lawmakers means such willpower is pretty hard to come by. It's an example of how government regulation in telecom isn't inherently evil (a telecom industry propped up bogeyman that has informed conventional wisdom for a generation), especially if it's actively encouraging competition in a heavily monopolized sector where cronyism and corruption are commonplace.

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Filed Under: apartments, broadband, california, competition, landlord deals, landlords, oakland


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Oct 2021 @ 7:54am

    It really is odd that those champions of the free market support these anti-competitive programs.

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

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 29 Oct 2021 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      Nothing is ever odd when you juxtapose campaign donations against voices of the people. To update an old phrase:

      He who has the gold is obeyed despite the shouting and teeth-gnashing of the rabble.

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

    • identicon
      MightyMetricBatman, 29 Oct 2021 @ 10:38am

      Re:

      Companies are interested in profit, not whether the market is free or not. A business is perfectly fine with a captive market with a government enforced monopoly.

      Why people think companies are a champion of free markets I have no idea. It is on the people to hold our elected officials to account to create a free market because businesses are only interested in profit.

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 29 Oct 2021 @ 8:30am

    And just watch as Big Telecom promptly gunpoints Oakland out of such an idea.

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

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 29 Oct 2021 @ 3:23pm

      Re: Big Telecom promptly gunpoints Oakland out of such an idea.

      Which is why Oakland needs to apply ordnance as well as ordinance to this one

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2021 @ 10:23am

    apathetic local phone company that hasn't meaningfully upgraded

    Actually, I have Consolidated Communications as my phone company, and they have recently run fiber service throughout my town. Pleased with the service and speed, and don't have to deal with Spectrum or live with DSL.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 29 Oct 2021 @ 10:53am

      Re: apathetic local phone company that hasn't meaningfully upgra

      congratulations. the full quote was:

      Tens of millions more Americans only have the choice of their local cable company or an apathetic local phone company that hasn't meaningfully upgraded their aging DSL lines in twenty years.

      Im glad you are not one of those tens of millions, but...

      Consolidated Communications Holdings, Inc., doing business as Consolidated Communications, is an American broadband and business communications provider headquartered in Mattoon, Illinois. The company provides data, internet, voice, managed and hosted, cloud and IT services to business customers,[2] and internet, TV, phone and home security services to residential customers.[3] With 36,000 fiber route miles,[4] it is a top ten fiber provider in the U.S.,[5] serving customers in 23 states.[6]

      Your ISP is not an local ISP. I don't see how your situation advances the conversation or applies to the article.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2021 @ 2:14pm

    'Rules against arson are terrible!' said the pyromaniac

    It's an example of how government regulation in telecom isn't inherently evil (a telecom industry propped up bogeyman that has informed conventional wisdom for a generation), especially if it's actively encouraging competition in a heavily monopolized sector where cronyism and corruption are commonplace.

    Always pay attention to who is telling you that regulations/rules are bad(or good), and consider what they might have to gain by that position.

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

  • icon
    nerdrage (profile), 30 Oct 2021 @ 10:26am

    forget Facebook, go after Comcast

    I get sick of seeing tech companies like Facebook hauled before Congress when it's the telcos that should be brought to heel. I can and do live just fine without Facebook or Twitter, but just try getting decent internet without dealing with a monopolistic telco.

    If I were the suspicious type, I might think the furor over the tech companies is a smokescreen for distracting us from the true problem.

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

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 30 Oct 2021 @ 2:20pm

      Re: forget Facebook, go after Comcast

      No suspicions necessary, you are absolutely correct - Big Telco is most definitely whispering in our congresscritters' ears, and none-too-gently reminding them that the campaign donations will stop if they don't keep hammering on 'Big Tech'. It's going to change, and for the better, but likely not until long after I've shuffled off of this mortal coil.

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


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