Lay Out the Telecom Mat

Thursday Mar 1st 2001 by SmallBusinessComputing Staff
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FCC forbids landlords from entering into exclusive contracts with Internet services providers in buildings or office complexes.

by Robert J. Wagman

Many businesses lease space in buildings and office parks where landlords require all tenants to sign up for high speed Internet access (and even phone service) through one Internet service or telecommunication provider. The Federal Communications Commission recently took action to ensure business tenants' right to choose.

The crackdown is part of the FCC's attempt, under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to lower costs of services to consumers by fostering competition. Since the FCC has no jurisdiction over landlords or building owners, it moved against telecommunications providers, essentially forbidding them from entering into exclusive contracts to provide services to buildings or office complexes.

In its initial action, the FCC also required that utilities, including Local Exchange Carriers, must afford all telecommunications carriers and cable service providers reasonable and nondiscriminatory access to conduits and rights-of-way in customer buildings and campuses.

The Real Access Alliance, a coalition of 11 trade associations that represents landlords and building owners, fought to preserve owners' right to enter into what have been very lucrative, exclusive agreements. As part of the compromise, the Alliance has agreed to a plan that guarantees tenants unfettered access to all telecommunication providers.

The FCC could have imposed stronger restrictions, but chose to compromise instead. For instance, under the new regulations there is no prohibition for groups of tenants voluntarily banding together to use one provider in order to save money.

"We are going to be monitoring this very closely to see that it is adhered to," said the FCC's Joel Taubenblatt. "The Commission is ready to take additional action if necessary."

The FCC is also studying whether to prohibit telecommunication companies from paying commissions or bonuses to landlords who help sign up tenants for high speed Internet access, broadband, or telephone services.

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