Broadband and apartments – what can we learn from this urban issue?

Mostly I pay attention to what’s happening with broadband in rural areas – rural Minnesota specifically. But a week ago someone sent me an interesting article on a primarily urban issue: broadband and landlords in apartments and other multiple unit dwellings (MUDs).

Here’s the issue…

Steep Internet bill and no choice? If you live in an apartment building, the landlord might be profiting from your plight.

Exclusive broadband agreements between apartment building owners and broadband providers are common, leaving renters with no choice but to pay inflated costs for sub-par service — and rewarding landlords for keeping it that way.

The existence of these exclusive arrangements is surprising for a simple reason: they were outlawed eight years ago.

The landlord chooses one provider – based on financial rewards bestowed by that provider. Even though it is illegal, the article points out that a landlord can make it pretty easy or difficult for a new provider to come into their building by simply not opening the door to them or not allowing marketing materials into the building.

It’s interesting to think about the urban issue – and it’s interesting to see if there are any parallels with rural areas. (Or in the case of towns – think about the implications of this happening in your community.)

The article offers some advice for apartment seekers – some of these suggestions would also make sense for someone looking to relocate their home or business to a rural area…

1. Check before you sign

Before you sign a lease, manually check what Internet providers are available. Start with a broad zip code search using the BroadbandNow provider comparison tool, then follow up by calling each provider to check if they can access your specific building.

2. Ask your neighbors

Introduce yourself to your potential neighbors, and ask what options they have.

3. Tell landlords how you feel

If you don’t move into a building because of a lack of broadband choice, inform the owner so they’re aware that choice matters to renters.

4. Participate in local government

Be active in your local government, and ask your representatives to support pro-competition broadband initiatives like dark fiber.

5. File a complaint

A critical mass of public complaints can have an impact. You can file with both the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and FTC (Federal Trade Commission):

If I were to modify this list for a rural area, I might say:

  1. Check before you sign. Just last week I heard about someone who bought a home in a rural area only to learn that Internet access was not adequate for their needs.
  2. Ask neighbors. Again last week I heard wrote about a provider that decided to escalate upgrades to meet the need of a local business.
  3. Tell landlords how you feel. Here’s a might modify that to the local Economic Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce or elected officials. Perhaps they can help. And even if they can’t it will be helpful for them to know that they are losing potential with limited broadband.
  4. Participate in local government. Ask if there’s a broadband effort and if so consider joining or again at least let them know your story.
  5. File a complaint. The irony is that while government does what they can to promote competition in urban areas they seem to do almost do the opposite in rural areas because they often will fund only one provider in any given area. I understand  wanting to maximize their investment but sometimes that choice leaves government putting up some of the same roadblocks in rural America as the landlords build in urban areas. That makes it difficult to file a complaint.
This entry was posted in Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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