In December 2016, San Francisco officials approved an amendment to the city’s police code that threw a large obstacle in the way of broadband monopolies in multifamily residential buildings. The ordinance allowed any internet service provider access to a building’s cable wiring, even if it was already being used by another provider. Previously, ISPs such as Comcast or AT&T could more easily create deals forcing tenants into a take-it-or-leave-it internet access scenario. They did this by getting landlords to agree to disallow any other ISPs access to their building. While the amendment was a very small attempt to ease the Bay Area’s lack of broadband competition, the telecom industry doesn’t like any form of competition in its “free” marketplaces, and it has fought and lobbied to get the rule changed.
Just over a week ago, former Verizon attorney and now Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a new proposed rollback of that very rule, titled “Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multiple Tenant Environments.” The proposal in fact was for the exact opposite: Pai argued that taking away smaller ISPs’ ability to compete with larger ones creates competition. Pai also argued that San Francisco was infringing on the FCC’s authority. This is a classic move: The FCC under Pai likes to say that it shouldn’t have authority over broadband rules when it comes to net neutrality protections, but it also wants control over municipalities’ ability to create consumer protections against big telecom.
Yesterday, the Democratic House of Representatives passed H.R.3351, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act. One of the bill’s amendments was added by Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California. Ars Technica reports that Porter’s addition “[p]rohibits the Federal Communications Committee from finalizing a draft declaratory ruling that would overturn local ordinances that promote broadband competition.”
Porter’s office said, “The FCC’s mission is to promote competition. We should be holding them accountable to fulfilling this mission, which is why I’m seeking to defund their declaratory draft ruling preempting San Francisco’s local ordinance, effectively preventing competition.”
Whether anything can pass through a Senate run by Mitch McConnell remains to be seen, but Democratic representatives are doing what the American people elected them to do: protect Americans from big business.