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

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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.”

FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Calls for Environmental Sustainability at Summit

Environmental sustainability in telecom has been a key talking point for Starks.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

June 27, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks raised on Monday the importance of sustainability in telecommunications as a speaker at the 2022 Broadband for All Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

An important responsibility for agencies in the industry is building infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable, Starks said, suggesting four avenues to improve sustainability.

First, “we must continue to find ways to do more while using less, and that begins with the way we use spectrum,” he said. We need to “squeeze” the most out of the finite spectrum while simultaneously building networks that draw less power.

Second, “we need to realize our full potential to help other sectors consume less, too.”

We are entering an era where we can “collect, communicate, and analyze massive quantities of data to improve decision-making in real-time. Everything from traffic flow to energy transmission to orders of operation on the factory floor can benefit from data-driven efficiencies that were previously impossible,” he said.

Third, “industry-led initiatives must continue to play a significant role, from progressing towards reducing or eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their operations, to increasing renewable energy and minimizing electronic waste.”

Some manufacturers, according to Starks, have gone beyond carbon neutrality and are aiming for net-zero operations.

Fourth, “we must collectively do our part to mitigate climate change’s harmful effects at the network level”. With harsher weather patterns than previous generation, we should invest in networks that will keep communities connected during storms, floods, wildfires, and other disasters.

Starks, who has pitched environmental sustainability in telecommunications on a multiple occasions, advocated for players in the industry to be “as aggressive as possible with our climate commitments, and we should be as comprehensive as possible in our effort to comply with them.” This should include eliminating waste during the production phase, he said.

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FCC to Gather Information on Offshore Spectrum, Accurate 911 Call Routing

The FCC is examining the need and use cases for allocating spectrum for offshore use.

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Photo of Nathan Simington

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Wednesday to examine technology that can improve wireless 911 call routing, propose a fine for interrupting U.S. forest service radio communications, and to seek comment on offshore spectrum needs and uses.

The FCC voted to begin gathering information through public comment on the “possible current and future needs, uses, and impacts of offshore wireless spectrum use,” including for cruise ships, oceanography and wind turbine projects. Other options, like satellite-based systems, are available to provide service.

The construction and operation of windfarms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and communication services between at-sea vessels require offshore spectrum. The notice of inquiry asks what other cases exist that require offshore spectrum access that are not being provided for under existing models.

“We seek more broadly to understand the extent of the demand to use offshore spectrum and more generally where that demand is concentrated,” stated the inquiry.

“It is important that the FCC stay ahead of the curve in its consideration of upcoming commercial spectrum needs and this item does just that,” said commissioner Nathan Simington.

911 call routing

The FCC launched an examination into technology that could result in faster response times by more precisely routing wireless 911 calls to the correct call center.

Some wireless emergency calls are made near city or county borders where the closest call center is in the neighboring jurisdiction, resulting in lost time as calls are rerouted to the correct call center.

Since 2018, when the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on feasibility of routing 911 calls based on location of the caller versus location of the cellular tower, there have been many advancements in location-based routing technology. The FCC issued a Public Notice Wednesday seeking updated information on these technologies and the feasibility of adopting them into public use.

Last month, AT&T announced a new technology that would allow dispatchers to get a more accurate location of distressed calls by using the phone’s GPS.

Proposed fine for violating radio interference rules

The FCC also proposed a $34,000 fine Wednesday against Jason Frawley who, in 2021, allegedly interfered with radio communications that were guiding firefighting during the 1000-acre wildfire near Elk River, Idaho.

Frawley reportedly admitted to a Forest Service supervisor that he broadcasted on government frequencies in direct defiance to the Communications Act which prohibits any interference with authorized radio communications.

Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions are final FCC actions, said the press release.

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