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Hate it when your apartment block is locked to Comcast etc? Small ISPs fight back

FCC urged to end Big Cable's exclusive deals with flats

A group of small ISPs is asking America's broadband watchdog to ban exclusivity deals that lock apartment buildings to a single broadband provider.

Incompas, a Washington DC advocacy group for ISPs and telcos, told the FCC in a filing [PDF] that it should end the practice of landlords and building owners making deals with a single internet provider to have exclusive access to multi-tenant environments (MTEs) like apartment buildings and condos.

The group argues that such deals, which often include payments or kickbacks to landlords when their tenants sign up for service, harm consumer choice in America, and unfairly let large telcos freeze out smaller ISPs.

"The considerable barriers to entry faced by competitive providers seeking access to MTEs imperils the business case for the deployment of next-generation networks and services to the thirty percent of American consumers who live in multi-unit premises," Incompas says in the filing, submitted yesterday.

"Without access to these providers, residents of MTEs will be denied the benefits inherent to a competitive telecommunications market – innovative services (such as fiber), higher speeds, and lower prices."

The filing goes on to note that the FCC already prohibits telcos and TV services from making direct exclusivity contracts with buildings, but loopholes in the rule allow for things like exclusive wiring rights or revenue sharing agreements that effectively amount to exclusive service contracts in practice.

Kill exclusivity lockups/kickbacks

Now Incompas wants the commission to investigate the matter and consider expanding its rules to further limit these agreements and allow building tenants to choose whatever ISP they want.

"Exclusivity lockups and kickbacks have enabled landlords and big cable and telecom companies to skirt existing FCC policy, keeping prices high and customer service low," said Incompas CEO Chip Pickering.

"Setting apartment consumers free is a key component of the broadband deployment agenda. We also encourage the FCC to support local communities fighting for more competition that will help bridge the digital divide and unlock fiber investment."

That will, however, likely be far more easily said than done. The current administration of the FCC has built itself a reputation for buddying up with the largest telcos in the country when it comes to policy and rulemaking.

Convincing the FCC to place limits on the likes of Comcast and AT&T could be an uphill battle. ®

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