Stuck paying for your apartment's crummy internet? FCC boss Rosenworcel wants to help

Proposed regulation would bar building owners from forcing internet services on tenants

One of the oddities of American apartment living is "bulk billing" – a practice that sees landlords determine which ISP serves the entire complex and requires residents to use that provider even if they would prefer a rival.

If that ISP is a dud, tough luck: you literally have to live with it – but maybe not for much longer. On Tuesday Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chair Jessica Rosenworcel proposed a regulation to end such bulk billing.

"Everyone deserves to have a choice of broadband provider. That is why it is not right when your building or complex chooses that service for you, saddling you with unwanted costs, and preventing you from signing up for the plan and provider you really want," she declared. "This proposal shuts down these practices."

If enacted, the proposed rule [PDF] would bar building owners from forcing tenants to pay for broadband, cable, or satellite services as part of their rent or utilities packages. Additionally, it would allow existing tenants to opt out of established arrangements.

Rosenworcel's office argued that the regulation would also increase competition by making it more profitable for competing providers to set up shop. The FCC's argument asserts that tenants are more likely to explore alternative broadband providers if they aren't stuck paying for both their building's connectivity and the service they actually want.

It's not clear to what degree building owners would be responsible for allowing the installation of service provider infrastructure to support alternative broadband providers. It's not hard to imagine scenarios where, even if a tenant were to opt out, an alternative service provider may not be available.

However, before any of this can happen, Rosenworcel's proposal will first need to go before the full Commission. If adopted, it would then kick off a comment period during which the agency would solicit feedback on the proposed bulk billing ban.

This wouldn't be the first time the FCC has gone after building owners. Previous regulations adopted by the FCC in 2022 prohibited broadband providers entering into revenue sharing arrangements, and required them to disclose any exclusive marketing agreements.

Improving access to broadband services – particularly in rural and underserved areas – has been a major talking point for the Biden administration over the past few years.

This effort has included carving out $42.5 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal to improve US broadband networks under the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

Rosenworcel, meanwhile, has on numerous occasions pushed for greater transparency in pricing and privacy. She has also called on the FCC to increase the minimum broadband standard to 100Mb/sec down and 20Mb/sec up.

One of the next issues up for consideration is whether the FCC should bar cable and satellite TV providers disguising video services as taxes, fees, or other surcharges on bills. ®

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