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New Entrants in the Multifamily Broadband Space Create Policy Turnabouts and Clashes on Infrastructure



Photo of Matt Ames from Broadband Communities

January 2, 2021 – Expect issues of broadband and multifamily housing to gain renewed attention in 2021. Watch for some strange alliances and interesting policy turnarounds.

The subject matter is complicated because of both policy challenges and infrastructure issues associated with the inside wiring of a multi-tenant environments.

For example, on Tuesday the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association announced that it will take over leadership of the Multifamily Broadband Council; their members converted into WISPA members at the start of the new year on Friday.

See “WISPA and Multifamily Broadband Council,” Broadband Breakfast, December 30, 2020

As a trade association, MBC represented telecommunications companies delivering broadband to apartment buildings and condominiums. WISPA, by contrast, has generally represented broadband providers using fixed wireless solutions. Generally, those connections have been to more rural customers, which is a smaller share of the multifamily housing market.

The former executive director of MBC, Valerie Sargent, said that “WISPA had more members starting to venture into the MDU space yet had no aspect of its membership dedicated to multifamily needs.”

The two groups have taken different approaches to multifamily infrastructure

In the past, the two groups have emphasized different approaches multifamily infrastructure.

For example, MBC was allied with an effort – led by the real-estate industry – to challenge Article 52, a controversial San Francisco ordinance that required the owners of multiple-dwelling units to allow individual apartment-dwellers to choose their broadband provider.

Among those involved in that effort were the National Multifamily Housing Council, which supported the MBC effort to overturn Article 52. It was ultimately successful: The Federal Communications Commission pre-empted the measure in July 2019.

But now NMHC and WISPA are on opposite sides of an issue that appears to be gaining traction at the FCC: Requiring building owners to allow wireless internet service providers access to their rooftops so that providers can offer broadband to any MDU dweller.

Currently, the Over-The-Air-Reception-Device rule allows consumers to place satellite dishes on their units, in spite of any pre-existing restrictive real estate covenants. Now some broadband providers are seeking to put “hubs” on apartment buildings. WISPA said that a rule change would “help align OTARD rules with how today’s wireless broadband networks are being built.”

Matt Ames, an attorney at Hubacher, Ames and Taylor representing the NMHC and other real estate associations, recently argued before the FCC that the agency should refrain from extending the OTARD rule.

How the Article 52 and OTARD controversies intersect

Speaker earlier in the fall, at the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit, Ames said real estate interests were skeptical of sharing inside wiring, which was a central part of Article 52. As part of the July 2019 action preempting the San Francisco ordinance, the agency asked for broader information from cable and broadband providers about all kinds of agreements they enter.

Ames said that in his meetings with FCC officials, the real estate companies argued that if the existing OTARD rules were changed, anyone leasing access on a rooftop (a cell carrier or tower company, for example) would automatically have the right, regardless of the terms of the lease, to put in a hub site or wireless broadband antenna, which would affect current and future lease agreements.

According to Ames, the OTARD rule, which states that if you lease or own property you can put up certain antennas, be they satellite, Wi-Fi, or broadband antennas, was aimed at people being able to receive the service.

However, the rulemaking would expand this so that service providers would have the ability to put in transmitting antennas, “turning the original purpose of the rule on its head,” he said.

The FCC was asked to look at several multifamily issues such as exclusive marketing, exclusive use of wiring, compensation payments to owners, and proposed transparency requirements, meaning whether or not companies would be required to disclose terms of marketing and revenue share agreements.

The FCC is also investigating general issues such as like exclusive rooftop agreements and whether providers should be allowed to share digital antenna systems if permitted in a building.

NMHC’s arguments against the OTARD changes

The real estate industry has made six key arguments at the FCC.

Ames said the first point was that “new competitors aren’t being shut out, there’s just a lot of competition and they need to find a market niche where they can compete.”

While a lot of competitors have anecdotes about going to one place or another and being shut out, that’s not the same as the marketplace being unfair.

Second, the regulations they were asking for were likely to be counterproductive because none of the terms would encourage owners to bring people in because they were just regulating the terms with the owners.

Third, competition is already strong in the industry. The level of penetration of competition in multifamily market shows that in 75 percent of apartment communities there are already two providers. In 80-90 percent of new construction, the developer is assuming or looking to get two or more providers.

Screenshot from the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit

Fourth, the FCC’s rules have created the current competitive climate.

“Competitors have accused sale and lease agreements of being unfair, but really the existing situation is the result of the FCC’s rules.” Explained Ames, “Cable operators don’t have the incentive to own wiring, which is why owners own it and then make it available on various terms.”

The FCC also told phone companies that if they owned fiber networks the FCC won’t regulate them, and they now “insist on owning the fiber all the way to the unit.”

This is significant because it would mean that the FCC would have to tell phone companies that they need to share their wiring, which Ames does not think is likely to happen.

Fifth, providers find the repeal of net neutrality really helpful because they’re not in the business of regulating broadband.

Sixth, there’s a lot more involved in developing a new multifamily/apartment network than one might think. Some have complained that it’s unfair for owners to get a little back on a door fee or revenue share; however, said Ames, “when you’re spending 50 million dollars to develop a property and you’re paying for a lot of the initial wiring costs, I don’t think that argument flies.”

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.


Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.



Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.



Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.



Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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