San Francisco Mayor London Breed has spoken out against the Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to overrule a provision of a city ordinance.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Breed wrote that the FCC’s proposal to preempt part of a city law that prevents landlords of multi-unit buildings from blocking tenants from accessing the internet service provider of their choice would hurt residents by reducing competition for communications services.
The provision of the ordinance, known as Article 52, says property owners can’t deny internet service providers access to existing wiring within multi-unit residential and commercial buildings. It was the first such rule in the nation when the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed it in 2016, according to then-supervisor Mark Farrell.
I mostly write about rural broadband – so why the notice of an urban post dealing with multi-unit homes? Because rural areas can feel the same pinch when policy impedes competition. It looks a little different – but the result is the same: lack of choice.
We’ve seen that with CAF II funding where incumbent providers had access to federal money to upgrade to a minimum of 10 Mbps down and 1 up. Once the incumbent accepts that money, they have dibs. (To use a playground term.) Another provider will have a hard time getting federal funding to move into that area – even if they promise better connectivity.
And the even more difficult part of it is that the CAF II is that it isn’t a clear win for the incumbents. The funding isn’t enough to offset the real cost, nor enough to spur a real focus on unserved areas when there are areas with a better return on investment. But there are providers, often cooperatives, whose business model do allow for broadband upgrades that do meet customer need and sufficient ROI. (Last fall, tax changes were suggested that would have made it even more difficult for cooperative to offer broadband.)
The policy impact on rural communities may be familiar to more readers but again the result is the same. One choice! And with one choice, you run the risk of service, speed and prices that suit the provider. In rural areas, it’s federal funding or tax changes. In urban areas, it’s giving that power to one landlord – who may be compensated for making a broadband choice for the building.
There is one proposed budget amendment that may get in the way of the FCC plan…
The FCC proposal has hit at least one bump: The House of Representatives last week approved a budget amendment introduced by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, that would prevent the FCC from finalizing a draft rule that would overturn a provision of San Francisco’s local ordinance. The amendment was passed as part of a group, but it could still fail in the Senate.
“The communications industry is in dire need of more competition,” Porter said in a statement. “San Francisco’s Article 52 has been incredibly effective in promoting broadband competition — giving residents the benefit of competition and choice in the market, increasing their service quality while decreasing their monthly bills.”