Big ISPs fight to save exclusive wiring deals that limit choice in apartments

A person's hand holding a bundle of coaxial cables.

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The cable lobby is trying to stop a possible ban on exclusive wiring deals between Internet providers and landlords, claiming that exclusive arrangements are “pro-competitive” even though they make it harder for new ISPs to provide service in multi-unit apartment and condo buildings.

The Federal Communications Commission last week sought public comment on how to promote competition in multiple tenant environments (MTEs), following a President Biden order that encouraged the FCC to “prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.” The FCC technically bans exclusive agreements for TV and telecom services in multi-unit buildings, but it hasn’t stamped out the problem in part because FCC rules allow deals that prevent new ISPs from using existing wiring. These wiring deals are sometimes exclusive to one ISP even when the wires are owned by the building owner and not being used.

The new FCC public notice asks whether the commission should “revisit its conclusion that exclusive wiring arrangements generally do not preclude access to new entrants and thus do not violate its rules.” That conclusion was made in 2007 under a Republican majority. The FCC is now asking for public comment on whether exclusive wiring deals “inhibit entry by competing service providers” and on whether the deals have any benefits for tenants to outweigh the drawbacks.

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