back to article San Francisco first US city to outlaw ISP lock-ins by landlords

San Francisco has become the first major US city to bar building owners from restricting their tenants to specific ISPs. A city law, set to take effect later this month, calls for the owners of commercial and multi-tenant (that's four units or more) buildings to allow any state-licensed internet provider to install lines to …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    has had fairly limited access to high-speed internet options, owing in part to its unique topography and zoning laws.

    I take issue with the zoning law part of this. Just about every place in the US has a problem with local laws... zoning or otherwise when it comes to ISP's. The big 4 are very happy about this as they don't have to compete and can pretty much charge what the market will bear and then some. The MSM has picked up on the lack of completion but most articles don't go deep enough to realize that there's laws in place due to the sweetheart deals made several decades ago to get ISP's to the locals. Sins of the fathers sort of coming back to bite everyone in the butt.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Well, consider that, without those sweetheart deals, many places wouldn't have Internet access at all. For many, it was "Take It Or Leave It": a Hobson's Choice. Given the possibilities that communities could face people moving away (along with their tax money), it puts them (especially rural communities without the revenues to plunk down for the major infrastructure necessary) in a bind.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        That's very true. In many cases, Mom & Pop started a small ISP in a city, got the city's blessing, and put in infrastructure for a tax break (or even a grant or two). Years later, one of the big 4 bought them out and then waved the sweetheart deal that was transferred to them. I lived in a small town where this happened and it seemed to be the norm for a lot of small towns.

        At this point, about all we can do is live with it.

  2. whoseyourdaddy

    So, everyone will be spread out and unprofitable..

    Nothing could go wrong here. Can't convince UVerse or Fios to expand if they can't make money on the infrastructure deployment to the curb. It will be interesting to see if this motivates Google to deploy more fiber.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: So, everyone will be spread out and unprofitable..

      Google's already pulling out of the project. Turns out running a utility is not all about "If you build it, they will come." Many times, it becomes more like, "Someone's gotta do it," as in it's not always for the money, which is why many times it falls to the State to step in.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        Re: So, everyone will be spread out and unprofitable..

        Actually there is more to it...

        If Google continued... then Google would have become a utility. Google can play fast and loose with the rules because it is not a utility just like it hasn't been ruled a monopoly.

        So even if the last mile was profitable... the rules and regs may make it not worth Google in the long run.

  3. DNTP

    My old landlord could learn from this

    He had a single residential grade DSL line to a consumer grade Wi-Fi access point, for a twenty-unit building, and charged fifty bucks per month PER TENANT for access. The fact that his Wi-Fi security was crap didn't change the fact that there were 30-40 tenants trying to use this one DSL line.

    Coincidentally, he did not permit any ISP to perform installations in any unit. Years after I moved out I heard he went to prison for fraud, which sure was a loss to the business community.

  4. Tikimon Silver badge

    About dang time!

    Every apartment complex I ever lived in had one anointed ISP, hate it or leave it. Usually this was the most horrible of a bad lot, the ones who would most benefit from blocking the competition. This practice is similar to the contracts phone companies always locked us into, except we didn't get to choose who we were tied to. So by kissing up to the property owner, the ISP got hundreds of households locked in, forever and ever, amen.

    Laws against this onerous practice can't spread fast enough.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: About dang time!

      Ever considered that perhaps the complex lacks the infrastructure and that complying with the law may involve very expensive retrofitting that may even cause building code violations? Those risks could put some landlords in the red and they may opt to shut down instead because of that.

      1. David Beck

        Re: About dang time!

        There are apartment complexes without copper telephone lines to each apartment? Amazing.

  5. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
    Boffin

    Bad Idea and hard to implement.

    While I live in Chicago, I can tell you that you will find this to be difficult to implement.

    1) Cable / Internet part of your rent / association dues.

    Cable companies will do multi-year discounts if they have exclusive rights to deliver service to all units. So you're going to pay for it whether you use it or not. So if you have Cox and you want Comcast, you're going to have to pay for Cox on top of your Comcast.

    2) Access. Depending on the building, age, etc... you may not have a phone closet on every floor. So you will have additional cost to pull wire to the unit.

    So while the building may allow you to get a second provider to the building... there is a cost for the provider to run the wire. It can be very expensive. And guess who foots the bill.

    In our building... I have the only unit that had fiber pulled during construction. (I paid for it so I could run either fiber , cat 5 to an ISP. This was done 19 years ago) Fast forward to today... we had unit owners who wanted a different provider because they thought they could get a better deal. For some units (townhomes this wasn't a problem.) For others, it meant that the cable company would have to drill holes and run wire to each floor and then unit owners could choose. Since setting this up. The owner who demanded this... moved and the other unit owners liked what they had so they never switched. ( 2nd ISP pissed off.) We could get FIOS... the first issue is running fiber to the building. (It would mean digging up the street and running a pipe in to the telco room. This ain't cheap) Then its getting access to each floor and running it up and then running conduit to the units. Again not cheap.

    The bottom line... when you look at the costs, and then you're going to have to foot the bill. So while you can legally have a second ISP... good luck.

    Oh and of course... you may run in to issues if you want satellite service. (Dish AT&T)

    1. Preston Munchensonton
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

      Not sure that I would call it a bad idea. Individual choice is the ultimate point of capitalist society (despite the assertions to the opposite by sum). So consumers should have more choices.

      That said, there's no question that the city will find enforcement hard to handle, for the reasons you outlined above. For some really old buildings, I imagine things are made even worse, since there are no wiring closets of any kind (incl. electrical) and the building was retrofitted in the first place. I've worked on a few clusterfucks like that in my time and don't regret turning them down later on when similar projects popup.

      The bit left unsaid by those who blissfully applaud such moves are, of course, concerning the burdensome cost of the regulations. It's never a bank, or an ISP, or some other business that has to pay for the regulations. Instead, governments can stealthfully spread the costs amongst consumers, shareholders, employees, etc. Legal fictions like a business don't bear costs. Only people do. (And, off my capitalist high horse)...

      1. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

        "Not sure that I would call it a bad idea. Individual choice is the ultimate point of capitalist society (despite the assertions to the opposite by sum). So consumers should have more choices."

        The landlord is a consumer too, and he will have fewer choices now regarding his own property and how he wants to run his business. If internet access is so important as all this, surely landlords will recognize this and see an opportunity to compete with other properties vying for prospective tenants by offering more choices to them. Those who choose to only allow one or two ISPs will be at a disadvantage, but it's their choice, as it is for the tenants who consider living there.

        Getting government involved doesn't create more choices. Government limits choices-- that's what governing is. Given the penchant for government to poison everything it touches, it would be wise to have it touch as few things as humanly possible. The market has the means to deal with this on its own.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

          "Getting government involved doesn't create more choices. Government limits choices-- that's what governing is. Given the penchant for government to poison everything it touches, it would be wise to have it touch as few things as humanly possible. The market has the means to deal with this on its own."

          How does the market deal with sweetheart Hobson's deals made by 800-lb gorillas, then? Government can impose limits, yes, but those limits can also be applied to greedy companies trying to impose their own limits against the competition. That's the thing about anti-trust law. About bully tactics and so on. It's like what happens when Microsoft offers OEMs copies of Windows at a discount but ONLY if EVERY SINGLE MACHINE they sell comes with it.

          I believe in organized crime circles they call such things "An Offer You Can't Refuse."

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

          From what I read... the law says you have to allow them the right.

          But it doesn't say who pays for the cost of installation. And that's a big thing.

          I mean if you talk to the cable company and installers, they want to run the cable along the wall or ceiling exposed. Some people say no ... in the wall or in conduit. That's $$$$$.

          So landlord could say... sure... go ahead, here's the rules, and you pay for it. They will be compliant, but you will decide against it because its not worth footing the bill.

          That's the thing. If you were told it would cost you $3500 for the install alone, would you do it?

          What about 6K, 12K... would you still do it?

          BTW if the landlord includes internet and cable in the rent... you still pay for it whether you use it or not.

        3. thegroucho

          Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

          'surely landlords will recognize this and see an opportunity to compete with other properties vying for prospective tenants by offering more choices to them'

          Market is never perfect and will never be.

          This is rather idealistic view of how supply/demand/markets work.

          Also - if the incumbent telco hands over 'incentives' to the landlord - why would they care about consumer choice.

          That said - having a full 42 or 45U 23" (19" is for amateurs) Telco rack installed in a small building so that every ISP in the vicinity can install kit is not really viable idea.

      2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        @ Preston Re: Bad Idea and hard to implement.

        Clearly you haven't been faced with this issue.

        Having a choice isn't a bad idea. Like I said, we did just that. We bypassed building in Internet connectivity to our building's monthly assessment and going for a big discount. One reason was that it limited our individual choices even withing the cable provider. The second was who would run on the premise equipment like routers and wi-fi access points. I could but if I moved or was unavailable... oops!

        We were able to do it, although the second cable / ISP got burned.

        We have a resident who's in real estate and kept coming to the condo board meetings griping about not doing a deal that built in our cable to our monthly assessment. As if new home owners really cared.

        I do agree with choice, but unless you can get a large enough group to move or want it... its not worth the cost and effort. 20+ years ago, I had a switched 56KB link in my apartment and then ISDN. I could do that because I had copper to the unit. Today... cable modem is the cheapest and best buy. If I could do FIOS... for the price... maybe.

  6. x 7

    Isn't this what G4 was designed to overcome?

  7. Updraft102 Silver badge

    "Isn't this what G4 was designed to overcome?"

    I don't see what a smart phone by LG has to do with this.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Unless he means HughesNet Gen4, a satellite-based provider. Though I suspect it's something else altogether, as I'm not fully knowledgeable of California ISPs.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        @Charles... forget Satellite

        Its slow, expensive and its a last resort.

        On the farm, I almost considered setting up a mini tower with a microwave connection to the telco in town ~20 miles away. Much more expensive but worth it.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: @Charles... forget Satellite

          Like you said, a last resort, but for many, the ONLY resort, too.

  8. phuzz Silver badge
    Trollface

    How is it we don't have this problem in the UK?

    Normally we can screw up any infrastructure project better than any other country in the world, but in this the yanks seem to be screwing it up worse than us.

    It's probably those bloody immigrants fault, that's what Farrige told me anyway.

    1. David Beck

      Not a problem in the UK because it's poorly serviced by cable and most internet is delivered by copper from the local cabinet. In the US the concept of LLU does not exist.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "In the US the concept of LLU does not exist."

        In the US, the concept of LLU _did_ exist and got systematically legislated out of existence by sweetheart deals between the incumbents and state public utility commissions on condition of infrastructure investments (which also allowed mergers).

        Those infrastructure projects usually never materialised or were aborted after a few months but the telcos kept going back to the PUCs for more deals - and getting them, no questions asked. Money or other considerations may have passed between PUC members and the telcos but if so, it's all off the books.

        The result is that the AT&T Borg has been reassembled from all the baby Bells back into 2 parts (east and west of the Mississippi to avoid the antitrust action of the 1930s), all the LECs and competing ISPs are gone and that pesky "univerasl service" obligation from the 1930s antitrust settlement is gone.

        It's known as the $10 trillion swindle and worth looking up.

  9. Dr Paul Taylor
    Thumb Down

    Saddling the landlord

    The article, comments and presumably the legislation all seem to be founded on the idea that private landlords are evil capitalist bastards who are in league with the evil capitalist bastard ISPs, whilst tenants are exploited but know best how to get the best deals.

    The other point of view is that maybe the landlord has looked for a good deal, which the tenant screws up because, like many customers, s/he has been seduced by some marketing scam that will tie the property physically and legally to some evil capitalist ISP (or energy supplier or ...) long after the end of the tenancy.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Saddling the landlord

      So, multiple points here about why you're wrong:

      1) Cable/phone/Internet service is tied to the subscriber's name, not the property. If I, as a renter, subscribe to AT&T and then move, the landlord is not liable for the service.

      2) From a technical perspective, it is usually quite trivial to switch ISPs when existing cabling is in place (which for DSL or cable is usually the case these days).

      3) If new cabling is required, then, again, it's usually quite trivial, with cost being borne by the tenant and not by the landlord.

      There may be reasons that I'm not familiar with which impact the landlord's cost, but, for the most part, it sounds like the landlords are getting sweetheart deals from the ISPs, who then have little incentive to upgrade their services, so the tenants get boned.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For us in the UK...

    the US telecoms laws have seem like some dodgy cartel where each player has their own turf and God help anyone trying to muscle in. It's so antiquated and confusing, it's just madness.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: For us in the UK...

      "the US telecoms laws have seem like some dodgy cartel where each player has their own turf and God help anyone trying to muscle in."

      It IS a dodgy cartel, where the players have legally mandated monopolies and it may well be a crminal matter for anyone trying to compete. The telcos generally have a 100% monopoly over DSL services and competitors get no look in. This has systematically put almost all smaller ISPs out of business because the telcos were generally also able to introduce charges for modem calls on the basis of "system load" (which is bullshit as an established PSTN connection generates no load - that only happens in setup/teardown phases).

      You frequently have the situation where towns/cities trying to setup their own systems are being sued out of existence by the incumbents - with state backing.

      The USA is a "free market" - a good example of what happens when the big companies are free to make up the rules as they go along and buy the rulemakers. The country is almost as corrupt as Nigeria or other countries floating around the "Most corrupt" index, with crumbling infrastructure due to decades of economic mismanagement, but inertia means that things haven't started collapsing - YET.

      Being a major military power means the collapse may well be messy.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: For us in the UK...

        "Being a major military power means the collapse may well be messy."

        Messy enough that no one might survive it.

        A man once said, "Better to strike a match than curse the darkness." Another countered, "Even if that match ignites the gas that blows you up?"

  11. Fatman Silver badge

    SF's new "ISP neutrality" """rules""".

    I have a long time friend that recently inherited the management of a 2000+ unit apartment complex, built back in the 1980's. It has seen little 'love' (a quaint real estate term) since it was built, and it has slowly deteriorated due to neglect by the increased shareholder value types that have previously owned/managed it.

    Their buildings are in need of a serious makeover, and he wonders IF the recent purchasers (his employer) are going to invest in the property, or, like the others, continue to milk that cash cow.

    In terms of getting higher rents, he is up against much newer, and better maintained properties, who can command the additional rent.

    While cable internet IS available at the property edge, trenching it to the interior buildings is expensive because everything on that site is underground. One of the deficiencies is the complex's OLD MATV system, which has been damaged by careless workers over the past three decades, and suffers from all kinds of problems, and most likely could not be adapted to run cable TV.

    He has a list of proposed improvements to the property, but, he is almost certain that the exchange between himself, and his bosses will be along the lines of:

    Him: "Here are the proposed improvements to the complex that I feel are needed to better position ourselves against our competitors."

    Boss: "How much will it cost?"

    Him: "It will cost $X."

    Boss: "We can't afford that, there is no ROI in increasing our CAPEX. You will have to make do without, (sound of Boss striking out more than 3/4 of the items on the list) these."

    Him: "Then it is not worth the effort." (saying to himself - 'Better find a new job, pronto'!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SF's new "ISP neutrality" """rules""".

      "Boss: "We can't afford that, there is no ROI in increasing our CAPEX. You will have to make do without, (sound of Boss striking out more than 3/4 of the items on the list) these.""

      What if the response was, "Sir, without these minimum requirements, we lack the capability to compete with the neighboring units owned by the competition, meaning people are going to move out and we lose their rents. You say we can't afford to do it, I say we can't afford to NOT do it. Otherwise, this complex is a sink and we'd be failing our fiduciary duty. I'd be willing to bring this up with the investors."

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