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As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress required the FCC to initiate a rulemaking intended to define digital discrimination and enact rules to prevent it. While the proceeding is largely aimed at broadband providers, the FCC has used this as an opportunity to raise questions about whether multifamily property owners have a role to play in digital discrimination and whether the FCC should revisit rules governing agreements and relationships between broadband providers and property owners.
NMHC strongly disagrees with the FCC’s move to further regulate the multifamily broadband market and believes the FCC should adopt a more narrow reading of “digital discrimination.”
Read on for the latest legislative, regulatory and industry actions related to this topic.
NMHC Leads Submission of New Industry Comments on Digital Discrimination
On February 21, NMHC filed comments on behalf of the industry at the FCC on their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Preventing Digital Discrimination.
- What This Means: With the support of NMHC members and suppliers of the industry, NMHC once again provided data driven comments to the Commission arguing that property owners are stakeholders who work tirelessly to ensure access to high speed and reliable broadband services for apartment renters. These comments come in response to the FCC’s late December request for comments (detailed as part of the January 10 updated below).
- Why We Weighed In: NMHC’s comments centered on two main points:
- Where and why the multifamily broadband market is failing—and how the FCC should address it.
- Why counterproductive onerous policies, like Mandatory Access, only further exacerbate the digital divide.
- Diving Deeper: NMHC highlighted that where the multifamily broadband market is failing is in lower-income multifamily communities where broadband providers have made the economic choice not to serve the property or community because of their inability to:
We also pointed out that this problem was acknowledged – and addressed – by Congress when they rightly designated these communities as eligible for BEAD funding. In terms of our comments regarding Mandatory Access, we demonstrated its ineffectiveness by pointing to new research and data analysis that indicate these policies
- secure a return on their investment; and
- carry the cost of deployment or necessary upgrades to enable high-speed broadband service
- do not increase broadband adoption; and
- allow broadband providers to cherry pick profitable communities to serve.
- What's Next: NMHC will have the opportunity to comment again soon. As part of these comments, we will respond to the comments of other filers and rebut any claims put forward that do not accurately reflect apartment owner and operator efforts to provide reliable, high speed broadband service to residents.
Learn more about this new research and our policy position by accessing our complete comments >>>
FCC Issues Proposed Rules on Digital Discrimination with Multifamily Tie-In
In late December, the FCC put forward a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Preventing Digital Discrimination. This is the second step in the rulemaking process, with NMHC filing comments on it in June of 2022 (detailed July 15 update below).
- What This Means: As part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress required the FCC to initiate this rulemaking, define digital discrimination and enact rules to prevent it.
- Industry Impact: While the proceeding is largely aimed at broadband providers, the FCC has used this as an opportunity to raise questions about whether multifamily property owners have a role to play in digital discrimination and whether the FCC should revisit rules governing agreements and relationships between broadband providers and property owners.
- NMHC's Viewpoint: NMHC plans to file a new round of comments at the FCC on the proposed rules in early 2023 and push back against any attempt to further regulate the multifamily broadband market, which ultimately will be counterproductive in driving investment in broadband services and increasing adoption.
Learn More: Read the FCC’s proposed rule to learn more. >>>
NMHC Rebuffs FCC’s Misrepresentation of Industry
NMHC set the record straight with the FCC on June 30 on a new digital discrimination proceeding by submitting comments that:
- Explained that property owners do not engage in digital discrimination and are strong proponents of renters having access to reliable, high-speed broadband;
- Forcefully clarified the record that property owners invest significant resources to build out broadband networks and provide reliable, fast broadband services to residents; and
- Pointed out that broadband services at apartment communities are often better, faster and cheaper than what is available in the broader market.
- Once again, pointed to the actual market failure that exists—where broadband providers are making the economic decision not to serve or modernize broadband infrastructure in low-income, smaller or affordable properties because of their inability to recoup their return on investment. NMHC also expressed support once again for federal support and programs like BEAD that are aimed at deploying critical subsidy to help support modern broadband infrastructure in low-income multifamily properties to enable greater access and adoption.
- What This Means: The questions raised by the FCC about apartment owners continue to show their interest in exploring the multifamily broadband market and whether consumers are being harmed by existing business practices.
- Industry Impact: Industry data shows competition and superior broadband service already exists in most of the multifamily market with 80% of apartments surveyed having two or more providers on site. That’s why it’s critical NMHC engages with the FCC. We must continue to build a record that shows the vast majority of renters are well served by the existing market.
- NMHC's Viewpoint: NMHC will remain engaged with the FCC on this issue and advocate against:
- Regulation that could upend the multifamily broadband market;
- Taking away an owner’s ability to control access to apartment properties; and
- The shifting of further deployment costs from broadband providers to property owners at a time of worsening housing affordability challenges around the country.
Learn More: Read NMHC’s recently submitted comment letter to learn more about our viewpoint. >>>