FCC chairwoman wants apartment dwellers to have broadband choice

  • FCC chairwoman has been driving pro-consumer initiatives

  • A new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would ban bulk billing at multi-dwelling units

  • Cable operators such as Comcast and Charter do a lot of business with MDUs

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel doesn’t like the status quo when it comes to how multi-dwelling unit operators often handle access to broadband. She thinks it’s anti-competitive for an MDU to sign an exclusive agreement with only one broadband provider, leaving tenants with no other choice.

And this week she’s taking the first step to ban bulk billing arrangements by which tenants are required to pay for broadband, cable or satellite service provided by a specific communications provider, even if they do not wish to take the service or would prefer to use another provider.

Rosenworcel has introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which if adopted by a vote of the full FCC would seek comment on actions the agency can take to encourage greater choice for tenants in MDUs. 

In addition to allowing tenants to opt out of bulk billing arrangements, the proposal would seek ways to incite competitive providers to deploy service in MDUs.

"Everyone deserves to have a choice of broadband provider," stated Rosenworcel.

"That is why it is not right when your building or apartment 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. This proposal shuts down these practices," she continued.


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Of the new proposal, the president of the internet trade group INCOMPAS Angie Kronenberg said, "We commend FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s leadership in bringing more competitive options to multi-tenant housing, driving more affordability and options for one third of Americans who live in these buildings."

Fierce Telecom reached out to ACA Connects, the trade organization that represents many cable operators, to find out if these operators had a stance on the issue, but ACA did not immediately respond.

Cable operators such as Comcast and Charter do a lot of business with MDUs, providing broadband and Wi-Fi.


RELATED: Comcast touts its Xfinity Communities Wi-Fi

Last year an Xfinity Communities executive said the company serves about 250,000 properties from MDUs to single-family communities, assisted living residences, hospitals and college dormitories. He said in terms of its business relationships with the properties it serves, some contracts are exclusive. These "bulk" contracts mean that Comcast is the sole provider of Wi-Fi to the building. But the majority of Comcast’s contracts are “retail,” meaning that they’re not exclusive, and other providers also serve the property with broadband and Wi-Fi.

Rosenworcel champions consumers

This latest effort by Rosenworcel follows other pro-consumer initiatives she’s fostered related to telcos.

In 2022 the FCC implemented rules prohibiting broadband providers from entering into certain revenue sharing agreements with a building owner. And that same year, the FCC clarified that cable operators with inside wiring in MDUs can’t block access to competitive providers.

Recently, the FCC announced its deadline for providers to start displaying consumer labels, which have been likened to "nutrition labels" for broadband service. Most providers will need to be in compliance with label requirements starting April 10, 2024. Those with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines have a bit longer, until October 10, 2024.

RELATED: FCC wants to eliminate cable TV early termination fees

The FCC has also proposed to eliminate early termination fees from cable and satellite TV providers, which require subscribers to pay for an entire billing cycle’s service, even if they don’t want that service for the full billing cycle.