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.