San Francisco

FCC Partially Blocks San Francisco Apartment Internet Ordinance

Agency says San Francisco ordinance "deters broadband deployment"

What to Know

  • An FCC ruling partially blocks a 2016 San Francisco ordinance that requires access to multiple internet providers in apartment buildings
  • The FCC says the San Francisco ordinance makes unreasonable requirements of building owners and existing internet service
  • Mayor London Breed appealed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of Wednesday's FCC vote

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted to partially block a City of San Francisco ordinance aimed at giving apartment residents more choice in internet providers.

In a split vote, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling that "preempts part of an outlier San Francisco ordinance to the extent it requires the sharing of in-use wiring" in multiple-tenant buildings, such as apartment complexes and towers.

The FCC ruling would partially block Article 52, a measure adopted by the city in 2016, that aims to give apartment-dwellers the right to choose their own internet service provider, regardless of what internet company already has its wiring installed in the resident's building. That ordinance requires apartment building owners to allow tenants to choose their own internet provider.

In a July 2 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor London Breed described the ordinance's intent and expressed concern over the FCC's intention to block it.

"A key element of Article 52 is a requirement that existing wiring owned by property owners be made available for use by other communications providers, if feasible," Mayor Breed wrote. "This sharing allows more than one communications provider to use wires on existing cables. The type of sharing contemplated by Article 52 is common practice in many MTEs and has led to healthy competition among communications providers."

The FCC sees Article 52 another way -- as actually preventing growth of broadband internet competition in San Francisco.

"Required sharing of in-use wiring deters broadband deployment, undercuts the Commission’s rules regarding control of cable wiring in residential MTEs, and threatens the Commission’s framework to protect the technical integrity of cable systems for the benefit of viewers," the FCC said in its statement on Wednesday's ruling.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued a strongly-worded dissent after the ruling, calling it "crazy."

"We say to the city of San Francisco — where more than half of the population rents their housing, often in multi-tenant units — that they cannot encourage broadband competition," Rosenworcel wrote. "This is crazy."

Rosenworcel added that she is dubious of the legal justification for the FCC ruling, saying " is not clear this agency even understands the San Francisco law it seeks to preempt."

Mayor Breed's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the Wednesday ruling.

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