San Francisco Passes Precedent-Setting Bill on Broadband Access

Renters in San Francisco will now be able to pick their own Internet service provider (ISP) in all multi-unit buildings.

Back in October, Mark Farrell, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, introduced the first law guaranteeing Internet access in multi-unit buildings. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a bill explaining how Internet Service Providers (ISP) certified by the California Public Utilities Commission can provide service to residential and commercial properties, with four or more units, when requested. Essentially, property managers of buildings with four or more units can no longer bar any ISP from providing service in their building.

“Internet access must be viewed as a fundamental right in today’s world,” said Farrell when he first introduced the legislation. “There is no reason tenants should be limited in their choice of Internet service providers.”

While Federal law does prohibit property managers from offering exclusivity to one ISP, San Francisco providers argue that 500 multi-unit dwellings, which represent more than 50,000 units, deny ISPs the ability to provide service.

“Meaningful broadband access and competition is essential for a thriving startup ecosystem,” said Evan Engstrom, executive director of the startup advocacy group Engine, in a statement. “The status quo, which allows landlords and building owners to cash in on unnecessarily limited broadband options, suppresses competition and limits the freedom of city residents to select the provider of their choice.”

The legislation is backed by the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies. The non-profit trade group for carriers has had member companies involved in disputes with San Francisco landlords.

“As competitive providers of voice and Internet services, our members often have problems gaining access to residential and business customers that occupy multi-unit buildings in San Francisco,” said Sarah DeYoung, executive director of CALTEL, a non-profit trade association that represents competitive carriers in California. “Supervisor Farrell’s proposed ordinance provides a simple and time-bound process that provides fair compensation to building owners, protects the safety of all building occupants, and provides competitive choice to customers of today’s critical communications services.”

Once a resident requests a new ISP, the ISP is required to give the property managers advanced notice of intent to enter and pay fair rent during the installation process. Additionally, ISPs are required to use existing building wire if it’s owned by the property owner. Property owners are also indemnified against any installation-related damages. According to a release, qualified ISPs will be able to provide Internet service potentially within a month of a resident’s or business’ first request. Most importantly, according to the Board of Supervisors, qualified ISPs will also be allowed to access the inside of buildings in order to provide service.

The bill isn’t final at this point–a second vote will occur next week. Following the second vote, which is expected to have the same results of the first, the Board of Supervisors anticipates that Mayor Ed Lee will sign legislation into law. The law will take effect 30 days after it’s signed.

Kate DeNardi
About Kate DeNardi
Kate DeNardi is 21st Century State & Local's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs
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