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Panelists Clash Over Need to Eliminate Broadband Exclusivity Deals in Multitenant Properties

Industry officials disagree over how effective mandates are in creating internet provider choice within multitenant residential buildings.

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WASHINGTON, October 28, 2021 – During a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, panelists from a variety of technology organizations expressed skepticism over a proposed Federal Communications Commission policy to enforce competition between internet service providers in multitenant housing.

The FCC is seeking and received comments on whether to eliminate exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which mean third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents. The commission had previously already banned an exclusivity arrangement in which only one provider can service the entire building.

Panelists at the Wednesday event, titled “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units,” were unsure whether such a policy is necessary given the prevalence of broadband currently is in multi-tenant units.

Both Kevin Donnelly, vice president for government affairs, technology and strategic initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council, and Sandy Howe, board director of smart software communications firm Minim, contended that internet provider choice is widely present in apartment buildings, with Donnelly stating that 79% of them see competition on site.

Donnelly praised current systems put in place to allow for broadband options in multi-tenant units and stated that mandatory access policy would often benefit only buildings where competition between internet providers is already present. He sees potential trickle-down costs for consumers that come with broadband expansion in multitenant housing as a potential challenge for the future.

Public advocacy groups disagree

Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, disagreed with other panelists on the need to eliminate exclusivity agreements, stating that mandatory access laws provide more people with internet access and that lack of broadband is a problem of affordability for many apartment residents.

Additionally, she made clear that mandatory access laws protect service not only in residential settings but for businesses as well. She posited that even in recent explicit bans on service provider exclusive agreements in apartments, there are likely to be loopholes which landlords and internet service providers can find to exploit and profit by keeping broadband prices up.

Leventoff stressed that it is essential for consumers to be able to choose the provider from which they receive broadband and that providers in competition would be incentivized to improve the quality of their internet connection and create better experiences for customers. She follows the theory that wealthy areas receive better broadband because they are more profitable markets for service providers and that widespread competition between providers in apartments does not truly exist.

A key point of contention for panelists was whether a San Francisco mandatory wire sharing law struck down by the Federal Communications Commission in recent years helped to increase internet access in apartment buildings. Leventoff took the position that it did in fact increase access where it was lacking, while Donnelly countered that the buildings which received more service because of the law had already been fitted with broadband and hence the law did not assist those populations most in need.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS, Consolidated Communications Holdings, Ziply Fiber, and the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future all said exclusivity arrangements are burdensome to residents because of the alleged lack of choice.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the October 27, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units”

Bringing fiber to the premises is sometimes only half the battle. For example, bringing fiber to an MDU may not mean that every tenant will get better-quality broadband. In the case of multiple dwelling units or multi-tenant housing, it isn’t easy to completely rewire an existing building with fiber-to-the-unit. Further, the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are pushing real estate owners to eliminate or minimize exclusive MDU broadband contacts. What options do the owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have to enjoy both competitive and better-quality broadband?

Panelists:

  • Kevin Donnelly, Vice President, Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives, National Multifamily Housing Council
  • Sandy Howe, Board Director and Chair, Special Committee of Minim
  • Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge
  • Pierre Trudeau, President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

See “Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements,” Broadband Breakfast, October 21, 2021

Kevin Donnelly is Vice President for Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and represents the interests of the multifamily industry before the federal government focusing on technology, connectivity, risk management and their intersection with housing policy. Kevin is a part of NMHC’s Innovation and Technology team and leads its Intelligent Buildings and Connectivity Committee.  Kevin has spent over 15 years in the public policy arena at leading real estate trade associations and on Capitol Hill. Kevin received his BA from Rutgers University and his Masters in Public Management from Johns Hopkins University.

Sandy Howe is a senior executive with extraordinary go-to-market experience and deep knowledge of the global communications and media industries, including broadcast, wireless, IP and fiber networks, and their customers. Over the course of a 25-year career, she has also built a track record of strong P&L management, operations, product development, sales and marketing capabilities. Sandy currently serves as a Board Director and Chair, Special Committee of Minim, a smart home solutions provider of hardware and AI-driven software products sold under the Motorola brand.

Jenna Leventoff is a Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge, where she focuses on broadband deployment and adoption. Prior to joining Public Knowledge, Jenna served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) at the National Skills Coalition, where she led WDQC’s state policy advocacy and technical assistance efforts on state data system development and use. She also served as an Associate at Upturn, where she analyzed the civil rights implications of new technologies, and as Manager and Legal Counsel of the International Intellectual Property Institute, where she led the organization’s efforts to utilize intellectual property for international economic development. Jenna received her J.D, cum laude, and B.A from Case Western Reserve University.

Pierre Trudeau is President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access.

Drew ClarkEditor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

FCC

FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event

Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.

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FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.

The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.

During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.

Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.

The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.

The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.

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Senate Committee OK’s Rosenworcel, Questions Sohn on Mapping, Net Neutrality, Broadband Standards

Gigi Sohn explained her positions on issues facing the FCC.

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Gigi Sohn at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee meeting

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – As the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, it also questioned Wednesday agency nominee Gigi Sohn on issues including net neutrality, broadband mapping, and speeds.

Rosenworcel is already chairwoman of the FCC by virtue of being named to the position by President Joe Biden. The president picks the chair of the agency from among the commissioners. However, Rosenworcel’s term as commissioner is to expire unless the Senate confirms her appointment to another term.

The committee on Wednesday also approved Alvaro Bedoya, a staunch privacy advocate, as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission and had rounds at questioning Alan Davidson, who was nominated as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will oversee $42.5 billion in broadband funds from the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On mapping, Sohn called for a “crowdsourcing” effort amongst states to improve the quality of broadband mapping, as the agency has started to do. “A lot of states have maps already and they are quite accurate,” she said. Though she could not commit to a timeline, Sohn said that there could be no “good policy without good maps” and that if she were confirmed, she would dedicate herself to improve the FCC’s broadband maps.

Sohn also voiced her support for municipal broadband. “I have supported municipal broadband for a very long time,” she said, adding she supports open access models that allow service providers to share the same network. Sohn pointed to Utah as an example, where the model has been implemented successfully. She stated that the model has led to “enormous competition” for service providers.

When pressed as to whether the FCC should be able to preempt states and dictate how they implement their broadband policy, Sohn said she would like the FCC to have a better relationship with states. “If I am confirmed, one of the things I would ask the chairwoman [to use me as] a liaison to the states, because I’ve really formed very good relationships with them,” she said. “In the past, we have not [reached out] to the states and made them partners. We have been more adversarial.”

Net neutrality, broadband standards and Big Tech

Sohn also came out in support of net neutrality. “What I am concerned about now, with the repeal in 2017 of the net neutrality rules and the reclassification of broadband, is that we have no touch,” she said. “[Net neutrality] is really much broader than [preventing] blocking and throttling. It is about whether or not bandwidth – which we all agree is an essential service – should have government oversight, and right now, it does not.”

Legislators also questioned Sohn on her perspectives regarding broadband standards. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked Sohn what standard – whether it was 100 Mbps download with 20 Mbps upload, or 100 Mbps symmetrical service – would bridge the digital divide. Sohn stated that it would take more than just the deployment of infrastructure to bridge the digital divide.

“I have urged that Congress adopt a permanent broadband subsidy like the Affordable Connectivity Program – which is more money but is not permanent,” Sohn said. “You still always have the adoption problem as well, where people do not have the digital literacy, sometimes not even [actual] literacy, to be able to use the internet.”

Insofar that capacity and internet speeds are concerned, Sohn emphasized that the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act “does prefer scalable networks to meet the needs of tomorrow.”

“What we do not want, I would think – or I would not want – is to come back in five or ten years and say, ‘Oh, my goodness! We spent all this money, and we still have slow networks, and we still have areas that are not served,” she said. “The ability to have technologies that can grow over time.” Sohn stopped short of explicitly listing specific scalable technologies.

On Big Tech, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described “a confluence of liberals advocating for censoring anyone with whom they disagree,” and a situation where “big tech [is] eagerly taking up the mantle to censor those with whom they disagree.” Cruz asked Sohn how she could guarantee she would not “use the power of government to silence.”

Sohn said that she would “make that commitment” to not act in such a way and added that she would “take any allegations of bias extremely seriously.” She said that she will continue to work with the Office of Government Ethics to dissuade any concerns people may have about her biases.

A date for a vote on Sohn and Davidson’s nominations has not yet been scheduled.

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FCC

FCC Eliminates Emergency Broadband Benefit Enrollment Freeze

The commission says an enrollment freeze is no longer necessary as the Infrastructure Act’s Affordable Connectivity Program takes effect.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it is axing rules requiring a freeze on enrollment at the initial end of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

That’s because the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law two weeks ago, extends the program indefinitely and rebrands it to the Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC is currently gathering comments on how it should manage the transition to the new program.

The freeze was initially planned to avoid claims volatility and to allow for more certain financial projections in the EBB’s final months when funds were running low. Based on current budget projections, there is no longer concern that the EBB will run out of funding before the Affordable Connectivity Program takes effect, the FCC said.

In its announcement on Friday, the FCC also waived requirements for customer notice on the end of the EBB, which mandated 15- and 30-day consumer notices.

These mandates were eliminated to prevent any alarm or confusion over the EBB Program ending, as consumers will continue to receive service for 60 days following the program’s end due to provisions of the IIJA.

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