from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
One of the tricks dominant broadband providers use to limit competition is exclusive broadband arrangements with landlords. Often an ISP will strike an exclusive deal with the owner of a building, apartment complex, or development that effectively locks in a block by block monopoly. And while the FCC passed rules in 2007 to purportedly stop this from happening, they contained too many loopholes to be of use. Susan Crawford wrote an excellent story at Wired about this a few years back, noting that the rules are so terrible ISPs and landlords can tap dance around them by simply calling what they’re doing… something else:
“…The Commission has been completely out-maneuvered by the incumbents. Sure, a landlord can’t enter into an exclusive agreement granting just one ISP the right to provide Internet access service to an MDU, but a landlord can refuse to sign agreements with anyone other than Big Company X, in exchange for payments labeled in any one of a zillion ways. Exclusivity by any other name still feels just as abusive.”
She was also quick to note that while the FCC rules technically prohibited exclusive building broadband deals (which they again failed to actually do), ISPs also took to striking deals with landlords banning any other ISP from being able to advertise in the building:
“Here’s another colorful workaround exploited by the incumbents. Even though exclusive agreements are a no-no, marketing exclusivity is apparently permitted. So AT&T and Comcast and others will sign deals with buildings that require that only their flyers are displayed in the leasing office. No one else is allowed to distribute any competing material — and no events (think wine and cheese party for tenants) can be held by any competing provider on the premises.”
I bring it up because Axios, this week, reported that the FCC would finally be taking another serious look at this problem. More specifically, they’ll be seeking public comment from consumers and landlords about the impact this problem has on them, as part of the Biden camp’s broader bid to tackle monopolization. Of course “looking into” the problem and fielding comments is not synonymous with actually fixing the problem, which has been going on for decades thanks to bipartisan regulatory apathy.
This is where Biden’s failure to appoint a permanent FCC boss and third Democratic Commissioner enters the picture. Without a voting majority the agency can’t pass any reform that’s even remotely controversial, and the telecom industry will lobby hard to, as usual, keep this broken status quo intact. Interim boss Jessica Rosenworcel’s term ends at the end of this year, and if the Biden foot dragging on this front continues, the FCC could see a 2-1 GOP majority in the new year. And guys like Commissioner Brendan Carr pretty rarely can be bothered to stand up to dominant broadband monopolies on any substance of note.
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