UTOPIA Fiber Urges FCC Not to Ban Bulk Billing

The pushback on the FCC's plans to ban bulk billing has been substantial, with resistance coming from industry but also from minority, civil rights, and educational groups.

UTOPIA Fiber Urges FCC Not to Ban Bulk Billing
UTOPIA Fiber Deputy Director and Chief Marketing Officer Kimberly McKinley

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2024 – A federal effort to ban restrictive contracts for Internet and communications services in apartment buildings and other Multiple Dwelling Units continues to face resistance from an assortment of interested parties.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is proposing to ban bulk billing arrangements in MDUs, saying consumers lack choice because they get locked in to using the Internet Service Provider that cut a deal with the building owner or management company.

Under a bulk billing program, the landlord commits every resident to the service provider for the duration of the contract, which gives the ISP an incentive to upgrade the infrastructure while keeping per-subscriber costs below the prices typically offered to occupants of single family homes.

The pushback on Rosenworcel's plans has been substantial, with resistance coming not just from companies like Hotwire Communications and OpticalTel, but also from minority, civil rights, education, and local governmental organizations concerned about the negative consequences of instituting a bulk billing ban.

The latest to speak out is UTOPIA Fiber, an open access network pioneer based in Murray, Utah that has about 62,000 subscribers.

In a letter to the FCC on Monday, Kimberly McKinley, deputy director and chief marketing officer, called on the FCC to recognize the benefits of bulk billing.

“We favor bulk billing arrangements because they advance broadband deployment and digital equity and urge the FCC not to prohibit them,” McKinley said.

Broadband Internet providers like UTOPIA assert that bulk billing keeps costs down, especially for senior and low-income residents, and offers all residents the opportunity to access infrastructure they may not otherwise be able to enjoy.

“For many communities, bulk billing represents a unique method to provide affordable broadband access. Eliminating this possibility may unintentionally increase existing disparities in broadband access, which would further marginalize those who are already falling behind in the digital divide,” McKinley wrote.

In recent weeks, organizations such as the Community Associations Institute, the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, and the EducationSuperHighway have urged the FCC to scuttle Rosenworcel’s plan. In fact, the public record does not offer much in the way of support for a bulk billing ban.

Last week, Rosa Mendoza, founder and CEO of ALLvanza, a Latino advancement organization, sent a letter to the FCC extolling the virtues of bulk billing.

“Bulk billing is based on a simple economic concept: combine the buying power of a large group of consumers to get the best deal. Bulk billing can bring customers new investments in their buildings, greater performance, more responsive consumer service, and substantially lower prices, which has become even more important with the imminent end of the Affordable Connectivity Program,” Mendoza said.

On its website, ALLvanza says it’s “a nonpartisan, forward-thinking, policy and action nonprofit organization that advocates for the success of Latinos, and other underserved communities, in our innovation- and technology-based society.”

On May 8, Broadband Breakfast Live Online will host a webcast at 12 Noon ET on “Smart Cities, Multi-Dwelling Units and Bulk Billing," which will explore the controversy surrounding standard MDU practices like bulk billing. Registration and attendance are free. Click here to register.

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