Can your landlord dictate your broadband options?

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people asking about “multiple tenant environments” (MTE), well actually no one asks about that but that’s what the FCC calls apartments, condo, office buildings and other places where different people under one roof might want to subscribe to different broadband options.

Some people want to know why they seem to only have one choice for a broadband provider in their apartment building. Others hear that their friend has only option and they assume that there’s only option in that area, not that it might be a situation that’s unique to that apartment. Also there’s mapping. In January the Office of Broadband Development was encouraging residents to take a speed test and report back if the speeds they got were slower that the ones of the FCC map. (Funding may be determined by such maps.) But in an MTE the bottleneck might again not be providers in the area but the landlords.

The FCC has a whole FAQ on the topic. The highest level answer for apartment dwellers, is that a service provide cannot have an exclusive contract within a MTE, however a landlord can decide who she lets into the building. Here are the top questions…

Is my building an “MTE” covered by FCC rules?

The FCC defines MTEs as commercial or residential premises such as apartment buildings, condominium buildings, shopping malls, or cooperatives that are occupied by multiple entities. MTEs also encompass centrally managed residential real estate developments, such as gated communities, mobile home parks, or garden apartments.

The owner of my building won’t allow access to my desired provider. Are they violating FCC rules?

FCC rules only apply to certain service providers and not to landlords, so a landlord may refuse to allow other service providers to offer service to tenants. While a service provider may not enter into an agreement that grants exclusive access to an MTE property, a landlord may still choose the providers it allows into the building, even if that means only one company provides service.

My building requires that residents pay for a service from a provider that I don’t want. Does this violate FCC rules?

Not necessarily. The FCC does not currently prohibit what are known as bulk billing arrangements. Under such an arrangement, a company agrees to provide service to every tenant of a building, who are then billed a prorated share of the total cost. Under these arrangements, tenants may be billed by either the landlord or the service provider.

FCC rules do prohibit service providers from entering into bulk billing contracts with landlords that grant the service provider the exclusive right to access and serve a building.  These types of contracts harm competition by stopping additional providers from serving tenants in a building, and limit consumer choice.

I’m eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), but my provider says I don’t qualify because I pay my apartment landlord for broadband. Can I still receive the ACP discount?

A resident of an MTE who is eligible to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program may apply the ACP discount to a monthly broadband bill paid to a landlord under a bulk billing arrangement if the service provider participates in the program.  However, residents in a bulk billing situation that pay the landlord for broadband and not the service provider would need the landlord and service provider to work together to ensure that the ACP discount is passed along to the resident.  Additionally, service providers are not required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, so if the service provider does not participate, or the landlord refuses to cooperate, a resident may not be able to apply the ACP discount to the monthly broadband bill charged by the apartment or landlord.

A resident eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program could still apply the discount to another broadband service, such as a mobile broadband plan offered by a participating provider.  However, in these situations, the resident would pay for both the bulk billing service as well as the other service for which they apply the ACP discount.  More information about the Affordable Connectivity Program can be found on the FCC’s website.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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