2017 was a busy year for telecom policy on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), setting the stage for an even busier year ahead and potential impacts on how multifamily firms manage communications services.
As previously reported, the FCC under the new leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai moved forward with rolling back the Obama Administration’s 2015 net neutrality protections, which prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritizing, slowing or blocking online content. The highly contentious move has sparked significant blowback with legislative and legal challenges underway.
Some lawmakers are looking to chart a new course. To provide legislative support to the FCC’s new rules, House Commerce and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation to codify some net neutrality protections, but consumer advocates say the proposal doesn’t go far enough. In the Senate, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Communications Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-HI) have indicated interest in working together to find a legislative compromise. Regardless of the outcomes of specific bills, both chambers will debate the issue this year.
While much attention has been paid to net neutrality, two additional FCC proceedings could significantly impact multifamily operations. First, the FCC launched a “Notice of Inquiry” (NOI) to review the market for broadband service in both residential and commercial “multiple tenant environments,” including rental apartment communities. Rules on agreements between multifamily owners and communications providers such as marketing, bulk billing, revenue sharing and wiring contracts could be reconsidered. NMHC filed comments twice with the FCC arguing against new regulatory limits on those agreements. NMHC has also led two campaigns to garner support for our filings by the broader real estate industry and multifamily firms representing about 1.3 million apartment homes across the country. The FCC is reviewing the issue to determine whether to proceed with a formal regulatory process.
NMHC also weighed in on a petition to the FCC filed by the Multifamily Broadband Council (MBC) challenging a San Francisco ordinance that could impact an apartment company’s ability to manage communications services at their communities. NMHC filed numerous comments in support of MBC’s challenge, arguing that the market for communications services in the rental apartment industry is competitive in San Francisco and across the nation, and ordinances like the one in San Francisco are unnecessary and ultimately harmful to consumers.
It’s unclear when, or whether, the FCC may act on the NOI or MBC petition, which raise similar issues. Together, these proceedings seem to be part of an extended period of deliberation by the FCC on the state of broadband deployment and market competition across the nation. NMHC will continue to vigorously represent the apartment industry’s interests and educate the FCC and Congress about the the multifamily broadband market.