FCC partially blocks San Francisco law pushing broadband competition for apartments

FCC partially blocks San Francisco law pushing broadband competition for apartments
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday voted to override part of a San Francisco city ordinance aimed at promoting access to more broadband providers for residents in apartment buildings.

The FCC's proposal had generated backlash from Democratic lawmakers like House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight MORE (Calif.), whose district lies within San Francisco.

The 2016 ordinance required building owners to allow internet service providers to use existing wiring in their facilities in order to ensure that tenants have access to multiple providers.

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The GOP-controlled FCC derided the ordinance as an "outlier" in broadband competition regulations that would deter broadband companies from deploying their own wiring to apartment buildings if they can simply use those of a competitor.

But San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) wrote to Pelosi and the FCC this month arguing that the agency's reasoning reflects a misunderstanding of the law.

"San Francisco has told us on the record that this is not what the law does," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the proposal, said Wednesday. "But even if it were true, the agency fails to determine here if such sharing would even be technically possible. All of which begs the question, why is the FCC doing this? Why are we preempting an imaginary possibility in a city ordinance in San Francisco?"

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai disputed their interpretation of the local law and argued Wednesday that the order was narrowly worded in order to preempt San Francisco law only where it might require the shared use of wiring.

"If the city is correct, then there is no reason for it — or anyone else — to object to our narrow ruling today," Pai said.

"It is difficult to understand how anyone could be harmed by a decision to preempt a city mandate that the city itself claims doesn’t exist. And if the city isn’t correct — if the ordinance does indeed require the sharing of in-use wiring — then it is also difficult to understand how the city — or anyone else — could object to our ruling."

Pelosi sent a letter to the FCC earlier on Wednesday asking the agency to delay or reconsider the vote, saying the proposal would “overturn a pro-consumer local law on behalf of big special interests.”

"This proposal is deeply misguided, and would undermine freedom of choice, increase costs and reduce service quality for residents, as it puts a chilling effect on much-needed competition in the telecommunications sector," Pelosi wrote.

Last month, the House passed legislation attached to an appropriations bill that would block the FCC's order, but it is unlikely that measure will advance in the Senate.

Updated 1:40 p.m.