San Francisco Looks to Level the Broadband Playing Field

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

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Landlords of multi-unit dwellings who attempt to offer only one internet service provider to residents will have to open their doors to resident-requested alternatives, if first-of-its-kind legislation passes.

Property managers in San Francisco will soon no longer be able to bar certified internet service providers from accessing multi-unit dwellings, effectively allowing tens of thousands of residents to pick their own ISPs for the first time.

While federal law prohibits building management from exclusively offering one ISP to tenants, local providers argue about 500 MuDs, representing 50,000-plus units, deny them the ability to provide service.

In response, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a precedent-setting bill laying out how ISPs certified by the California Public Utilities Commission can provide service to residential and commercial properties, with four or more units, when requested.

“Providing more choices and competition in the market is key to closing our city’s digital divide,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, the bill’s author, said in the announcement. “More choice and competition is also key to providing more affordable prices and higher quality internet service to our residents and businesses.”

Farrell called fast, cheap internet an “economic and social right.”

Once requested, ISPs must give advance notice of their intent to enter a building and pay fair rent during the installation process. ISPs must use existing building wiring where it’s owned by the property owner, who is indemnified against any installation-related damages.

A second vote on the bill occurs next Tuesday, after which Mayor Ed Lee is expected to sign the legislation into law—taking effect 30 days later.

Farrell’s bill is supported by the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies, a non-profit trade group for carriers—some of whom have been involved in disputes with San Francisco landlords.

“Meaningful broadband access and competition is essential for a thriving startup ecosystem,” said Evan Engstrom, executive director of the startup advocacy group Engine, in a statement. “The status quo, which allows landlords and building owners to cash in on unnecessarily limited broadband options, suppresses competition and limits the freedom of city residents to select the provider of their choice.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.

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