An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The FCC has announced (PDF) it's investigating deals the broadband industry strikes with landlords that block broadband competition in apartment complexes, condos, and developments. While the FCC passed rules in 2008 attempting to prevent such deals, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have exploited massive loopholes in the restrictions for more than a decade. "With more than one-third of the U.S. population living in condos and apartment buildings, it's time to take a fresh look at how exclusive agreements between carriers and building owners could lock out broadband competition and consumer choice," interim FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel said of the announcement. "I look forward to reviewing the record."
The inquiry comes after President Biden signed an executive order in July urging regulators to take a closer look at competition and monopoly issues in several sectors. The order also mandated the creation of a competition council, which urged the FCC to take a closer look at the anticompetitive nature of these arrangements. The FCC's existing rules technically bar landlords and ISPs from colluding to restrict broadband competition. But in a 2016 piece in Wired, Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford outlined the various ways big telecom wiggles around the restrictions -- often by simply calling what they're doing -- something else. "Sure, a landlord can't enter into an exclusive agreement granting just one ISP the right to provide Internet access service...but a landlord can refuse to sign agreements with anyone other than Big Company X, in exchange for payments labeled in any one of a zillion ways," Crawford wrote. "Exclusivity by any other name still feels just as abusive."
For example, to get around FCC rules expanding access to an ISP's in-building wiring, companies like Comcast or Charter will often deed ownership of these wires to a landlord, then turn around and pay that landlord to ensure that nobody else can have access. Because the landlord now technically owns the wires, the FCC rules no longer apply. ISPs also pay landlords to sign agreements that ban any other competing ISPs from advertising in the building. If you're a landlord that violates such arrangements, you can then expect a nastygram from a company like Comcast for violating your deal. In addition, many landlords will charge "door fees" to any company that needs access to a building to install new wiring, creating an additional layer of difficulty and expense for smaller broadband competitors trying to compete with dominant ISPs. Collectively such restrictions serve the same function as blocking broadband competition outright. Much as it does on the national level, this lack of block by block competition directly contributes to higher prices, slower speeds, and comically-terrible customer service.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.