FCC Moves to Guarantee Telcos Access to Commercial, Residential Buildings

Article excerpt

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved rules granting phone carriers greater access to commercial and residential buildings. The full details of the new regulations are still being worked out and will not be released for several days. At first glance, the FCC actions appeared to have found a middle ground acceptable to both sides of the contentious building access debate but the agency left many difficult questions to be resolved in a future rulemaking proceeding.

In moving to improve tenants' access to advanced communications services, the FCC put itself on a collision course with landlords who claim the FCC is trying to exert control over property and contract matters usually decided by building owners.

In a 4-1 vote, the FCC agreed to bar phone companies from making exclusive deals with commercial building owners that restricted landlords from granting building access to other telecommunications companies. The new rules also require incumbent phone companies and other utilities to share on-premise facilities with smaller carriers. Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth dissented because of concerns about the legality of the FCC's action. "This is a policy in search of a law," he said at meeting.

Thee FCC's decision will impact small and medium sized businesses located in multi-tenant office buildings, which account for approximately 80 percent of the nation's economy, and the 90 million Americans living in multi tenant apartment buildings. Upstart telecommunications companies had asserted that they had access to fewer than 5 percent of the nation's estimated 760,000 commercial office buildings because incumbent phone companies have secured exclusive contracts with most landlords.

In addition to barring exclusive contracts and providing more access to communications wiring and facilities inside commercial and apartment buildings, the FCC also granted commercial and residential tenants the right to place satellite dishes as large as a bicycle wheel on a balcony or other area they occupy to receive data transmissions from providers. The rules are potentially at odds with homeowner associations that restrict the placement of outdoor communications antennas on aesthetic grounds. A previous FCC rule had barred landlords and homeowner groups from preventing the installation of similar dishes for video services, but this recent ruling extends the umbrella of protection to data services as well.

The FCC's decision to move forward on the building access issue is the second instance in the last month where a branch of the federal government has taken steps toward breaking open one of the last bottlenecks between consumers and the telecommunications marketplace. …